Posted on December 5, 2019

Year 12 boys were tight-lipped for two days in May about the bright pink armbands tied around their shirt sleeves and blazers. 

Teachers appeared to become increasingly frustrated as the boys refused to tell them what they were for or ignored requests to remove them, as Ben Duffy told the Headmaster’s Assembly when the reason behind the armbands finally emerged.

“Our intention was always positive,” Ben, from Gunnedah, explained.  

That intention was to send a message about mental health that would not be forgotten. 

“Each boy who is wearing an armband today has put his hand up and said, ‘I am here to chat if you need to; we are united with each other and when someone is struggling, always feel comfortable coming and letting us know’,” Ben told the Assembly.

He also urged the 1000 assembled boys to “keep an eye on your mates and look after them; be conscious of the fact that they might not feel so good and watch for it, so you can be there to help”. 

“They may not want to talk about it and that is fine, but general support like eating lunch with them, and walking with them to class, can make a huge difference. It really is not that hard, it is just doing what mates should do,” Ben said.

“My other advice is, if you are feeling unwell, seek out real people – do not turn to social media. Tell a close mate, a family member, a boarding coordinator, a teacher, or reach out to the Joeys counselling service. Any of these groups will help you.”

It was in no way compulsory for the Year 12s to take part in the awareness-raising initiative. Rather, it was a choice for each boy to show their support by wearing the armband – and every one of them did.

Speaking after the Assembly, Ben, who drove the initiative with fellow student Curtis Fricot, said that the unanimous backing from the Year 12s represented a mixture of things including “a very open year group and a lot of very positive attitudes – and I guess that’s the kind of environment that’s bred at Joeys. It seems to attract good people in large numbers, more so than anywhere else I’ve seen. 

“It also says a lot about the attitudes that boys have towards mental health awareness, and the school’s attitude is one of support,” Ben said. “Everyone’s very open to helping each other, and it also shows that everyone’s happy to have discussions that aren’t necessarily easy.”

The reaction from the rest of the College, once the purpose of the pink armbands had been revealed, was a warm and supportive one, Ben said. Even more significantly, it achieved its aim of encouraging boys to reach out.

“I’ve heard bits and pieces about kids who have gone and asked for help, which is incredibly rewarding for me. I couldn’t have asked for much more than that.” Joeys Headmaster, Dr Chris Hayes, said the initiative reflected the caring ethos of the College.

“It was a wonderful display of the appreciation and awareness that we are all looking out for one another,” Dr Hayes said.

The pink armband initiative is set to become an annual event at Joeys – making it a remarkable legacy of the Year 12 class of 2019. 

“It would be incredible to have that kind of lasting effect,” Ben said. “Obviously mental health is not something you want to be talking about all the time, otherwise everyone would be incredibly unhappy, but I think having it as an open discussion, not as something that’s shunned and pushed away, is very positive.”