In Children’s Mental Health Week, we spoke to 16-year-old mental health campaigner and one of the winners of the Pearson World Changer Awards, Avani Bhalla, for her view on young people’s wellbeing today and what more can be done in education to help.
16-year-old Avani from London is passionate about promoting the importance of mental health.
A mindfulness lesson at school inspired her to speak up, take action and champion wellbeing in her school and wider community. Now she’s an ambassador for a local mental health charity where she mentors young people who are suffering with mental health issues and has also raised money to build a wellbeing garden. Her amazing passion and efforts won her Pearson’s Education and Beyond World Changer Award!
At Pearson, we are passionate about building healthy, calm and happy schools, and supporting the wellbeing of learners and teachers whatever comes their way.
For Children’s Mental Health Week we asked Avani to share her views on mental health and wellbeing, as well as her hopes and plans for the future. Here’s what she told us.
Q. Why does mental health and wellbeing matter to you?
I have seen first-hand the impact that mental health issues can have on young people, but also on their support circle of friends and family.
It is so important that people recognise that hiding away from mental health is wrong. When they come to terms with accepting this, they flourish and grow and do things that they would have otherwise been unable to do. The stigma around mental health and emotions must be eradicated. There is too much hate and unkindness in the world. As a global citizen I feel as though it is my duty to change this.
Q. Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected young people's mental health and wellbeing?
I think the pandemic has possibly affected everyone’s mental health and in particular young people. Mental health can affect absolutely anyone regardless of age, however, more than half of mental health conditions start before the age of 14 and many of those can be undetected until so many years later.
If anything I think these shocking statistics are only going to get worse because of the effects on young people over the last 12 months. Since the start of the pandemic I think lots of young people have felt increased feelings of anxiety, isolation and not feeling as though you would have the same stable support network of people like teachers and staff around you.
Q. Could more be taught about mental health and wellbeing in schools?
I don’t doubt for one second that schools aren’t teaching pupils the importance of mental health and wellbeing, but I still feel that more could be done, specifically in secondary schools. I think it’s at this time when most pupils are at the point where quality mental health education and support will help prepare them for the world outside of school and when they are most responsive to change. I would love to see mental health education treated just as equally important as subjects on the school curriculum.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been doing to promote wellbeing in your school?
I’ve been co-running a wellbeing magazine at my school and so far, we have two monthly editions out and one more coming out very soon. These magazines are very informal and are almost like a self-help guide, in that they offer simple tips and advice. We have things like a mindful eating section, some good reads and activities to try amongst other things.
On World Mental Health Day last October, I organised Young Mind’s ‘HelloYellow’ day at school so my year group could participate. We wore yellow to stand united in solidarity for young people when it comes to mental health and to show them that they are not alone. We also raised some money and used the day to really open up about our experiences with mental health.
Q. What plans do you have to champion mental health in the future?
The money that I raised in the summer has been partly allocated to a staff Wellbeing Garden at West Middlesex Hospital. It will be a space dedicated to challenging stigmas associated with mental health and encouraging visitors to talk openly about their emotions.
I drew up some sketches for certain types of flowers and plants that would be nice to have in the garden - each chosen because of meanings and interpretations behind them and the colours and calmness associated with them.
I will be mentoring young people suffering with mental health issues as an ambassador for the Michael Streete Foundation. At the moment, I am working on projects with them where we are creating guides for a range of topics from things to do with mental health and wellbeing to careers and passions.
Q. How did you feel winning a Pearson World Changer Award?
The award has given me even more encouragement and zeal to keep going and work harder. It is an amazing feeling when you can be passionate about something and an even more incredible feeling when your work spreads to help the wider community.
My World Changer Award is proof that each small act of kindness and change matters and can lead to so much more.
Q. What advice would you give to young people who want to champion mental health and wellbeing too?
There is absolutely nothing stopping you, go for it because you can never quantify how much of an impact your act of kindness and change will have - but I can guarantee you that it is more than you think.
You can make a difference and you can make a lot of change, which will only be for the better. Please go for it!
To read more about Avani and her work, take a look at Pearson’s World Changer Awards Winners Showcase.
For free resources and advice to support the mental health and wellbeing of learners, teachers and parents, visit Pearson’s Wellbeing Zone.