A Thought Provoking Assembly for Year 11 by Mr McElroy

A Thought Provoking Assembly for Year 11 by Mr McElroy

Good morning Year 11,


I hope you were all able to enjoy your ration of the glorious sunshine over the bank holiday weekend. VE Day provides us with a perfect opportunity to reflect on the incredible sacrifice laid down for us by our ancestors, and the remarkable plight they endured so that we, and future generations, can live free from the shackles tyranny.


Their sacrifice was so great and ours so feeble, and yet we continue to witness daily acts of reckless abandon. The shameful desertion by those unable to follow the most basic requirements, demonstrates a startling lack of compassion and it’s hard to stomach.


While your sacrifice is little, it’s significance knows no bounds, so please keep doing the right thing and rest assured, that your efforts are greatly appreciated, because society remembers what it is to be sixteen.


You, more than anyone, rely on the contact of friends, and so this is exasperating, no doubt, but it’s a ‘good’ much greater, that needs to be achieved. I want you to know this morning that we really appreciate what you’re doing.


This week also marks the ‘would-be’ start of GCSE exams and for some (many, perhaps all) the term ‘silver lining’ springs immediately to mind. Without exception, each of you will have had a less stressful week, than that which was scheduled.


We have improvised admirably to the unforeseen and have adapted to the new requirements. The response to ‘transition work’ has been very impressive. You’ve made your intentions abundantly clear with the standard of work that is already being produced. Remember to seek advice when required. Keep the lines of communication open with the relevant teachers, and aim to produce a level of work that will secure your place on the desired course.


For those looking elsewhere and indeed those still unsure of their ‘next steps,’ I want to stress that we are here for you also, and will support you as best we can, whether that be with subject specific guidance, applications or careers advice. I continue to liaise with Caroline from ‘Connexions,’ so should you require a meeting to clarify your options (in whatever format that takes), please let me know and I’ll arrange it for you.



O.K, I told you that today we would be addressing the sensitive issue of mental health (the elephant in the room). I’m going to deliver this over a series of assemblies in the coming weeks, given the body of content, and the ever increasing importance that mental health has at this difficult time. Doubt and uncertainty are the driving force behind a multitude of mental health disorders, so it’s no surprise that in this time of ‘uncertainty,’ our mental health is in jeopardy.


Mental health professionals are presenting a bleak forecast as a result of Coronavirus, and you, the ‘Quaranteenagers,’ are deemed most susceptible. I’m going to attempt to explain this morning what makes you more susceptible, in order to help you understand why sometimes, you might just not be feeling ‘yourself’ these days.



According to the mentalhealth.org.uk 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. 10% of children and young people(aged 5 -16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience such problems have not yet had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.



So what is it to be a ‘Quaranteenager’ and why are you deemed particularly at risk in terms of mental health? The reasons for this are three fold:


  1. The collective uncertainty of the ‘unprecedented.’
  2. Being a teenager. Wrestling with the restless confusion of youth. A changing body in changing times.
  3. Enduring the imposed social isolation.


Firstly, let’s explore how these ‘unprecedented’ times, may be impacting mental wellbeing.


Psychologists refer to memories associated with important historical events as ‘flashbulb memories.’ I’ll forever remember where I was and what I was doing, when I learned of the tragic events of 9/11. For my parents, it was the assassination of JFK. There are numerous examples, and they can change the way we view the world and sometimes even our vocabulary.


I had never heard the word ‘Tsunami’ until Boxing Day 2004, and now ‘tsunami’ is seemingly the ‘go-to’ term for an overwhelming amount of just about anything, like the tsunami of ICU patients expected during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Few of us were able to differentiate between the terms ‘pandemic’ and ‘epidemic’ a few months ago, but this historical event has taught us that an epidemic affects the extensive community, while a pandemic affects the world.


While Coronavirus doesn’t constitute a ‘flashbulb’ moment given it’s prolonged nature, it certainly falls under the category of historic significance and with each passing day, it’s becoming more and more apparent, that what we are experiencing now, will change the world we live in forever. It has invaded our lives and ground us to a halt, commanded acres of news paper columns and like some alien space craft in the movies, taken over our TV screens. There’s no getting away from it.


It calls on us to be resilient like never before. We must strategise and plan with flagrant disregard for ‘uncertainty.’ We must remind ourselves that one thing is always certain, life goes on. It’s a non-consensual, perpetuous, ever changing landscape. It evolves and with it, so must we. We must adapt, and adapt we shall.


Resilience is not a commodity ordinarily attributed to youth. It’s hard earned and takes time to acquire. This is why you particularly, are likely to experience feelings of helplessness at times.



Secondly, why are teenagers more susceptible to issues surrounding mental health? There’s certainly no simple answer to this but I’m going to give it a go.


It’s prevalence amongst teenagers is because of the struggle in navigating the treacherous terrain of adolescence. The same hormones that turn boys to men and young girls to woman, wreak havoc both physiologically and psychologically. We struggle with our place in the world and enter the high school popularity contest, which can be cruel and brutal sometimes. Social conformity is the name of the game and if you don’t fit the mould, you’re quickly left feeling isolated. Sexuality (a notion that that required no attention during your primary school years) now rides ‘shotgun’ and has become a distracting passenger on your journey.


You’re capacity to learn during these precarious years is somewhat compromised by the aforementioned chaos, and so to be challenged by GCSE exams seems particularly harsh, given what you have to contend with. The added pressure that comes with exams during the obscurity of adolescence is hard to bare, but bare you must.


Your metamorphosis is seemingly a private affair and you begin to withdraw from those you love most, crawling into your chrysalis each night with a moan and a groan. Your ever declining demeanour only serves to allow parents cut the metaphorical umbilical cord, and set you free when the time comes. It plays its purpose.


Being a teenager is not easy, and we, the grown-ups, we all know that. It’s only when you step out of the trees and look back at the forrest, do you appreciate what a precarious time it was. If there is one thing you take from today’s message, especially if you are struggling somewhat, let it be this- This too shall pass.


This is your metamorphosis. You are changing, but soon you will leave the cocoon behind, spread your wings and fly. You will gain a clarity and perspective that you’re not capable of from where you currently stand. Being a teenager is tough, but it gets easier. It really does.



The hormonal imbalance of adolescence threatens mental wellbeing, and it’s an issue further exacerbated by the third factor that we’re going to highlight today - social distancing.


Much of your mental health, your self esteem and self worth, are derived from social interactions, so our place amongst society is a large factor in determining mental wellbeing. We are nurtured and nourished by human interaction, and this is why It’s heavily prescribed by health professionals in addressing mental illness.


With social distancing, this nourishment is hard to come by, and while technological advances have gone some way to breaching this barrier, it has by no means solved the debacle. In actual fact, it may only serve to reinforce the problem, as research builds attributing smart phones to the increased prevalence of mental illness. While such claims seem unsubstantiated to a degree, there is a growing realisation that the two are inexplicably linked.



So, there are undeniable factors that may cause you the ‘Quaranteenager,’ to feel, ‘not yourself’ at times. The important thing to do is address it. Shine a light on your emotions. Don’t let them fester. Examine why sometimes you feel ill at ease. Talk.


Find someone, anyone, in whom you can share your thoughts with when things get difficult. That can be a parent, a sibling, a friend. It could be me, or any other teacher or mentor you have at school. We are here for you. Without fail. If you ever need to talk to us, just send a quick message and we’ll get straight back to you.


We are blessed as a school to have the expertise and guidance of Mr Berry, who became a proud father this week to an impossibly beautiful girl. Mr Berry is an excellent mental health practitioner and we are extremely fortunate to have him. Very few schools have such a luxury, so help is at hand should it ever be required.


While there’s no denying physiological disorder, psychological well-being is obscure and it’s difficult to define and measure. There are however, tried and tested remedies for mental illness and most are uncomplicated and accessible. These we will explore next week in the second of our series of assemblies on mental health.


Until then Year 11, be well and if ever you need, please reach out.


Forever Irish.


Mr McElroy