Round Square Virtual Conference Report

A number of our Felsted Prep pupils took part in a virtual Round Square conference hosted by the International School of Kenya which focused on how mental health is viewed in different countries around the world and the differences in understanding and access to mental healthcare. Read a report below from Hector L (Yr 7). 

The Round Square conference was hosted by the International School of Kenya and the theme was ‘Thriving in Africa’. The conference started at 7am UK time on Saturday 6th March via Zoom and there were nearly 300 participants from all around the world. We each had a baraza (old African word in Swahili meaning “The coming together of different people”) name and mine was Zawadi which means “gift” in Swahili. These names were later used to put us all into separate break out rooms for further discussions.

We started off by listening to a speaker called Mrs Natasha Wisssanji who set up ‘My Sunshine Mind’. Although she was speaking from Kenya, she had studied in Nottingham and UCL in London. She started off by defining what Mental Health is “The state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing” and then what the meaning of our Mental Health Condition is which she said is about realising our potential, coping with stress, our levels of work productivity and our ability to contribute to our community. She emphasised that all these things could have different levels which would be unique to each of us and could go up and down at different times in our life.

We were told that 85% of people in Africa have no access to mental health and are still ostracised, ignored and even tied up and/ or locked up.

This made me realise how lucky we are to be in the UK because we have a lot more awareness of mental health problems now and help if we need it. We are lucky to have the NHS which recognises that we also need mental health treatment and provides counselling and alternatives to medication like counselling, therapy, meditation, yoga and even massage. It became obvious in the conference that there were large differences in views and treatment between the developing and the developed countries. However there were also many similarities like the causes such as social media and stereotyping.
We were told that there is a lot of misinformation from social media, TV and books which stereotype and make the stigma of mental health worse.

We were told that we often used words related to Mental Health every day without really thinking about the true meaning of them, like “I am so depressed”, “She is so OCD”, “She doesn't eat, she must be anorexic”, “He’s such a psycho!”, “I swear I must be retarded.”, “He never sleeps, he must have insomnia.” All these words are used in a very negative way and to talk about negative feelings.

What can we do to help people with mental illness?

  • We can educate others
  • We can listen
  • Be Supportive
  • Challenge stereotypes and stigma
  • Talk openly about our feelings and experiences
  • Don’t judge
  • Be kind
  • Be accepting
  • Make sure we have a balanced lifestyle

We learnt that feelings are really just BIG MESSAGES asking us to pay attention to them. When one of the experts asked a group of teenagers their feelings, it was interesting to hear that each person always said the negative feeling first, “anxious, stress, struggle” before they then went on to mention feeling “happy, excited and relaxed”!

We learnt that we should

NOTICE - recognise what we are feeling (could be something physical showing us our feeling like our heart is racing or our fists are clenched)
NAME - identify the feeling
NAVIGATE - what can we do about the feeling/ situation to build resilience which is the ability to bounce back from a challenge.
We learnt that although we may all be born with different levels of resilience, the number one reason why one person is more resilient than another person is not because of genetics, biological factors or life circumstances but it's the way we think!
We talked about the current global pandemic and how children have had to quickly adapt to different and unfamiliar situations, like leaving school and learning from home, being away from friends and not being able to see close family. The pandemic has been very hard for many children to deal with, particularly for teenagers
What should we do if we are feeling negative feelings:-

CALM IT - examples include deep breathing, talking to someone, doing something we enjoy like reading, drawing, writing, creating, spending time in nature, talking to friends and family or even having a nap.
MOVE IT - examples include exercise, stretching, dancing, playing sport and removing yourself from the situation which is causing you to feel the emotion, like stress, anxiety etc.
REFRAME IT - If this happened to someone you know, what would you tell them to do, particularly if they are an introvert or find it hard to speak to someone about it?

Write it down in a diary

Look for evidence and the cause of the problem - is this thought you are feeling helpful and is it actually true?
CALM it and/ or MOVE it
Get someone’s opinion/ advice
The power of affirmation - tell yourself positive things about yourself to change your mindset
Train your mind to think positively because a lot of the time it can be managed.

 We followed this with some dancing and performed some simple breathing and relaxation exercises  (Anulom Vilom yoga) and something called a body scan with a lady called Ruth Jones.

We then went into our baraza breakout rooms and discussed the pictures that we had all sent in with our baraza leader who was from Mexico. In my group, I had people from India, Kenya and Namibia. It was really interesting to hear the other children talk about how mental illness is seen in their countries. The children from India said that people with mental health issues are mostly ignored and end up on the streets as beggars and if they are lucky then people give them money. They also said that there is not really any diagnosis for them and they often don't recognise that they have any mental health problems and because of this no treatment, the problems just get worse. We were told that in Kenya because you can't see mental illness like a physical injury, it is just ignored. The boy from Namibia said that people are often accused of faking it and told to stop, and that it isn't really diagnosed because they don't really have professors and psychiatrists to do this.

The picture that we submitted from Felsted was a jamboard which showed what was defined as insanity and crazy in the UK in the past and then showed how it is treated today in the UK.These discussions made me realise how lucky we are to be in the UK where our attitude to mental health is not perfect but we have a lot more awareness and acceptance and we do have access to help and diagnosis if needed. I also told them about our Mental Health Awareness Week and the recent Express Yourself week we have had in England. I also told them that mental health is talked about in our assemblies and by our teachers at school and that we are also very lucky to have a Wellbeing Centre at Felsted where we can go to just relax or speak to someone if we need to. The pictures that we all sent in were very interesting to look at and talk about. One of the Indian boys talked about “Untouchability” which I have looked up as it was very interesting. It says untouchability is the practise of ostracising a group of people regarded as “untouchables” as they are regarded as being from the “low caste”. These exclusions from the caste system mean that these people were segregated and persecuted by people from the “higher caste”. The boy told us that these lower class/ working people were often given menial tasks to perform like dealing with the rubbish and skinning dead animals for leather. He said that they were not allowed to wear the same clothes as people from the upper classes and were often subjected to cruel behaviour which scarred them for life and caused a lot of mental health problems. He also said that because of their lower classes, they had no chance of any social mobility. He said that Mahatma Gandhi played a big role in abolishing this but in practice, there is still a big class system in India. One of the Indian girls told us about how women were burned alive after being classed as witches.It was interesting to hear that a lot of discrimation about mental health in other countries seemed to be towards women, which is also what I found when researching this topic before the conference.

Following on from this, we then talked about if and how things had changed towards mental health in our countries. It was then time to return to the main conference where there was a panel of experts who talked about mental health today and what we could do about it and also then answered our questions. Here is a summary below of what they told us.

Positive Self Talk and Affirmations
There is no one better to be than myself

  • My Voice Matters
  • I am grateful
  • I forgive myself for my mistakes
  • I am kind
  • My challenges help me grow
  • All of my problems have solutions
  • I can reach my dreams
  • I don’t need to be perfect
  • I am choosing to have a good day

It is important to choose your “go to people” - they might be friends, family or people at school.

The experts on the panel emphasised the importance of having a balanced lifestyle, which means getting enough sleep, having a good diet, being social, exercising, and basically having a balance of everything in your life and not for example just playing computer games and eating junk food!

The experts talked about peer pressure and bullying in school and gave us advice with how to deal with it with this acronym:-

C - Stay COOL
L - LOOK them in the eye
M - MEAN it (even if inside you're feeling weak, you have to be like an actor!)

Finally, the message that I found most interesting was that a lot of mental health issues can be prevented or helped by our way of thinking which can change our mindset. One of the experts mentioned “rumination” which I had to look up and discovered it means “a deep or considered thought about something” and “neuroplasticity” (aka brain plasticity) which means “the brain's ability to change or adapt”.

I think this means that if we can fill our thoughts with positive feelings and thoughts then we might be able to help our way of thinking and our mental health and change it from something negative to something positive. The expert said that we should all think of three things that we are grateful for and think about them everyday for 1 month and if we do this, we should see a shift in our mindset.

What I have learnt:

I cannot believe how much I actually learnt in 3 hours this morning.

I have learnt so much about mental health and how we are able to help people and ways of treating it.

I have learnt so much about how mental health is viewed and treated in other countries all around the world.

I have learnt that I actually have the courage to speak in front of a large number of strangers from all around the world and that they listened to my opinions.

I learnt that I could research a topic that I didn't know very much about on the internet and create a document for others to see and talk about.

Finally I learnt lots of new vocabulary, including hello (Habari), thank you (Asante sana) and goodbye (Kwaheri) in Swahili and other words like rumination and neuroplasticity!

I think we should all try and train our brain in a positive way and try the experiment to think of three things that we are grateful for and think about them everyday for 1 month and see if we see a shift in our mindset.

Round Square at Felsted