Mental Health Month at Joeys
Posted on November 3, 2020
The strains of “You’ll never walk alone” often accompany our sporting teams as they enter the playing arena. They are not idle words. Joeys is committed to ensuring every boy is supported in his pursuit of happiness and wellbeing.
At Joeys this means opening up discussion on topics of mental health so that students feel free to express themselves without a sense of shame or inhibition.
In years gone by, young male mental health was best summed up by the phrase “harden up, son”, but in recent times a more sensitive and enlightened approach has taken hold.
Joeys has fully embraced this change because we believe there should be no stigma attached to talking about how we are feeling. It shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness.
Our boys have been keen participants in this new era, holding a pink armband initiative in 2019, which encouraged students who might be struggling to chat to their mates, and enthusiastically spruiking the benefits of R U OK Day.
The College is also a supporter of the YourCrew app, which enables young people to ask for help when they need it most.
Sound mental health is the wellspring from which all individual progress and achievement flows. Teenage boys’ lives are in a constant state of flux as they deal with physical, emotional and neurological change in a world that can sometimes appear cold and unwelcoming.
Joeys has several programs and counselling services to assist in the maintenance of students’ welfare and happiness. Our Wellbeing Department – peopled by professional psychologists – is available to any boy. He can contact the Wellbeing Department himself or be referred by a staff member or concerned parents.
Working within a framework of confidentiality and mutual respect, students are encouraged to unburden themselves and investigate solutions to their problems.
Clare McMahon is the College’s head psychologist. She says there are no limits on what boys can discuss with her or her team. It could be anything from exam stress, to creeping feelings of self-doubt as rugby trials loom. Or it could be a deeper emotional issue that has been proving a hurdle. Whatever the issue, it is always handled with the utmost care and sensitivity.
“Our team at St Joseph’s College is very professional,” Clare says. “It is important when you are dealing with sensitive, delicate and confidential issues. The wellbeing of the students is always paramount to all of us.”
Joeys psychologists help provide the tools the boys needs to deal with the highs and lows of daily life.
“The skills we are talking about are everyday skills,” Clare says. “They are skills to be able to live in a better and healthier way, and to go for opportunities and not let doubt hold you back.
“We know that in Australia approximately half the population will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. When you are working one-on-one with the boys, you can really nut things through and they can express themselves.
“We show the boys real respect and unconditional positive regard as soon as they walk into the office.”
When they reach 15, students are able to access services at their own accord. In junior years, social relationships and emerging adolescence are the main concerns, but by Year 12, staying motivated and entering adulthood are more dominant themes.
Clare says the sensitive way boys have responded to each other after visiting the Wellbeing Department is a credit to the collegiate spirit and sense of community that prevails on campus.
“The boys recommend us to their mates or even come with their friends. They’ll say: ‘Seeing one of the psychologists helped me, so I think it’s worthwhile having a chat.’ It’s an amazing attribute for these boys to have, as it is not an easy conversation to have.”
She has also been moved by the gratitude they have shown counsellors.
“The letters, emails and cards from the boys thanking us is just incredible,” she says. “There is such a genuine respect for other people.”
The flexibility and effectiveness of the college’s mental health program has been on display during the Covid crisis. As lockdown commenced, a guide to off-site wellbeing and regular tips on topics such as mindfulness, positivity and sleeping were uploaded to the students’ iLearn learning management system. This was reinforced by a series of Wellbeing Department videos which focused on self-care and mood awareness.
The other plank of Joeys mental health approach is seamlessly integrated into the day-to-day operations of the college. Every week, groups of a dozen or so boys meet with a pastoral teacher for 15 minutes in a casual setting and talk freely about what’s going on in their lives. The idea is to promote self-regulation and self-awareness, and learn strategies for coping with change and, in the age of Covid, disappointment.
“They enjoy each other’s company in the presence of a trusted adult,” says Deputy Headmaster Mick Blake. “These are people they already have a relationship with, which makes them more comfortable in expressing how they feel.
“The program evolves from Year seven to Year 12, and it picks out key elements that relate to where the boys are at the moment in dealing with this coronavirus crisis.”
There are also opportunities for students to experience community, as well as spiritual nourishment during Wednesday’s liturgy and prayer, and boarding and academic coordinators are regularly monitoring boys’ wellbeing.
It is a well-established medical fact that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Students receive advice on how to use exercise to relieve stress, and maintain their sports training regimens in an off-site capacity.
“We make sure all our boys are of sound mind, body and spirit,” Mr Blake says. “That they are comfortable in who they are and the environment they they’re in – and from that it opens up doors for their learning.”
At Joeys, no-one walks alone.