Educating The East End continues to be nothing short of brilliant television.
The Channel 4 series continued last night, turning its attention to the work carried out by Frederick Bremer's Home Support Worker, Emma Austin.
By the end of the hour, I could only wish that every single schoolchild had access to a 'Mrs Austin'. The episode struck numerous chords with me. Watching as young Louie struggled with his attendance due to feeling out-of-place and Charlie battled with his anxiety and panic attacks, I felt ashamed. Ashamed of myself. Ashamed for not having been as brave as they were in facing their problems head on and making sure they weren't missing out on the education that they deserved.
I think I enjoyed most of my time at primary school. There were off days of course; days where I remember crying and fighting for my parents to believe me that I would be better off at home. None of us understood why that was in all honesty. Things only got worse when I began secondary school.
The first three years are a bit of a blur in my head now. They almost feel non-existent in my memory. It's sad when you realise that you can't list one genuinely happy memory from your teenage years.
As the school years rolled by, I was finding it more and more difficult to get myself through the school door. And when I did, it was to simply survive the day alone.
It was just before my 15th birthday when I took an overdose on a Sunday night, so desperate to find a way a way to escape the fear of Monday morning. I still don't know what I intended to happen that night, my only thought was of what was waiting for me the following morning.
I was quickly ushered into the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service to begin dissecting what makes a relatively intelligent child attempt to take their own life. But I didn't have the answers. I was the eldest of five happy children, loved by two wonderful parents. I didn't have a traumatic story to tell. I was just the fat kid who was called a few names.
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Childline statistics released earlier this year revealed that 278,886 children and young people were counselled by the charity in 2012/13. Of that figure, bullying was mentioned in 44,766 sessions - already worrying before you discover that that marks an eight per cent increase on the previous year. A further 35,900 young people sought help due to depression and unhappiness.
The Time to Change programme, run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, also published a survey ahead of the new school term last month, which revealed that 77 per cent of young people suffering with mental health problems are missing out on education. While 24 per cent of those suffering did not want to go to school, college or university over fears of what people would say, even more alarming is that 12 per cent put an end to education all together due to suffering from mental health. That is not a statistic I am proud to be part of.
My school agreed to allow me to complete an outside study programme. I had a tutor who I would spend one hour with twice a week to go over the work my teachers would send home. The rest was up to me. I had vanished from my year group. I hadn't had any contact with a fellow student when I agreed to give year 12 a go. It was GCSE year, I was determined to try. I lasted three weeks.
The School-Home Support organisation exists to ensure that a vulnerable child is not left behind due to issues such as mental health, domestic violence, poverty and family separation. During the 2012 - 2013 academic year their practitioners made over 63,500 interventions. Results included improving the attendance of 75 per cent of persistent absentees, 61 per cent of those supported making academic progress and 86 per cent of parents reporting a significant improvement in their home life following an intervention. Their overall aim? To see a Home-School Supporter worker in every school.
School kept me on their records, provided me with the work and let me get on with it, apparently confident I could get by. I visited the school counsellor, a peculiar American gentleman, who came once every two weeks. I would be driven up the back hill to a quiet section of the building where I could sneak in and out undetected. It was a truly horrific ritual. One particularly bad 'chat' concluded early when I became dizzy and proceeded to vomit all over his shoes. Not a moment either of us is likely to forget.
To cut a long story short, I sat my GCSEs on the school grounds in a large unused room. Results day tears were not sadness at having somehow achieved 10 GCSEs, but at knowing I had allowed myself to achieve less than I deserved. I was 16. I was free of school. But I needed to face it one final time. I selected my four AS Levels and donned my uniform for the first time in 12 months. I did better than the previous year, making it until November 24th, 2006. My last Friday afternoon as a student. They'd finally had enough of me.
I see people talk about their school days with such fondness. The friends, the memories, the teachers... The "best days of your life". Oh.
So it was watching Educating the East End that it brought the sadness flooding back for the first time in quite a few years. For the most part, I've tried to put the ages of 11-16 in a box and keep it locked away. I'm still dealing with these issues and a decade-long battle with depression, anxiety and panic attacks, so the last thing I need to find myself doing is reliving those days. It's not easy to escape what is general chit chat for most people: "You didn't get your A Levels?" "You didn't go to university?". How can I explain that I feel my daily battle has both weakened and strengthened me in different ways, without being the one with the "mental health" issues? Opening that box sometimes feels like it could be my very own game of Jumanji.
If I'm honest, I was jealous as I was watched the compassion Mrs Austin showed the students. They had someone fighting for them. Someone who genuinely cared that they were not facing their problems alone. No child was just a statistic, a nuisance, another name to stick on a list. Mrs Austin, along with the rest of the Frederick Bremer staff, simply wanted each individual to know they were not alone and to succeed to the best of their ability. As she stood side of stage beaming with pride as Charlie bravely performed with his band, I found myself wishing, for the first time in 14 years, that I could go back and find my very own Mrs Austin.
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