Mental Health & Wellbeing Pilot Project for Bristol Schools: My Position Paper

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” – Plutarch

Mental Health and Wellbeing Group – Kathy Eliwa’s Position Paper

Core Theses

• Happy people have heightened awareness, greater sense of community, are proactive, creative and perform better. Unhappy people feel estranged and disenfranchised, they revolve around their own problems and oftentimes have neither motivation nor capability to contribute to the community in significant ways.
• Learning, social skills, relationships, (mental) health and happiness are closely interconnected. We need holistic approaches. If we truly want to improve mental health and wellbeing, we must apply a client-centred (here: child-centred) approach, rather than theorizing and superimposing isolated techniques.
• The context is important. Copying a model (such as Asian standards in education) does not necessarily replicate the results and may even be harmful if cultural and individual differences are not sufficiently considered.
• Nobody decides to misbehave for the sake of misbehaving. All behaviour is an expression or symptom of the condition of a system.
• Individually perceived impotence leads to indifference, resistance and/or rebellion. We as humans need to feel we are in charge of our reality. If we want happy, healthy, well-performing students, we need to let them take responsibility of their own education and co-create their learning environment and experiences.
• Promoting “hard work” is not in our children’s best interest. Those who work hardest are often the worst off in terms of finances, health, happiness, relationships and more. “Smart work” would serve us much better.
• Diversity is enrichment. It is not right to drill individuals to meet superimposed standards.
• Contributing to community/society, each in the context of our own abilities and preferences, is a basic human need as well as a human right.
• With the challenges that mankind is collectively facing in our world nowadays, every single individual is called upon to position themselves, make better decisions and take informed action. Profound, sustainable (social) change needs to happen from the inside out (individual –> family –> greater social circles/community –> national level –> world). It cannot be prescribed – it must be experienced. We want to empower our children so they can actively choose and fulfil their purpose.
• We need the courage to be visionaries, think and dream big, and not shy away from controversy.

What if we made school a sanctuary for our children?
What if we could get to the point where children love school?

A Glimpse of My Own Story

I used to be the best in class until grade nine. Teachers promoted me and sang my praise – I continuously held the position of Chairperson of Class Council and won numerous awards for excellent learning and performance, outstanding behaviour, and the Math Olympics. I was a nerdy yet fairly popular girl, and even a leader with the ability to inspire my classmates.
Then, during the summer holidays 1993, a stranger assaulted me sexually. I never told anyone until decades later. People around me only noticed that I began to change. Life in my already dysfunctional family deteriorated. I became shy and withdrawn, didn’t speak up in class anymore, and began to self-harm. My end of year report suggested to “stop my arrogant behaviour”.

The rest of my school career looked like this: I didn’t do my homework anymore. My grades dropped. I gained weight and was bullied. An endless loop of waking up late, rushing to school without breakfast, coming home, crying, fatigue, depression and suicidal thoughts, sleeping all through the weekend and hoping to make it to the next holidays so I could find time for my true passion, reading – my only connection to another world where love, happiness, creativity, inspiring challenges, adventure, humanity, integrity and great deeds still existed.

I hated school. I finished High School with a mediocre result of 2.7 (on a 1-6 scale), feeling like a loser. Nobody ever cared or asked how the once bright, promising young mind had been crippled like that. I couldn’t appreciate the fact that I had made it to that point, either. It didn’t mean anything. My dreams, my confidence, my inquisitiveness and creativity had all been buried under the pressure of grades, fitting in, keeping up appearances of being “normal”. Kathy as a person didn’t exist anymore. A victim was born.

I since fought my way back into life. But I still keep wondering, what could have been different if someone had asked the right questions when there was still time?

We need to ask more relevant questions!

For example:

• For whom do we learn? Are we as adults, parents, teachers and thought leaders still committed to learning? Do we facilitate and pursue our own personal development as much as that of our children?
• What are our life-long learning goals?
• What are our values? Whose interests do we serve? What are our secret agendas?
• Do we want to focus on “facts” (what are they?) or experiences, coping strategies and skills?
• Do we want to focus on potential or shortcomings? Are we error-friendly enough?
• Do we want to raise worker bees, careerists or happy, healthy, socially conscious individuals?
• How much importance and meaning do we choose to attach to grades and other performance data? What other standards and indicators do we need to consider?
• Do we want to subordinate, using threats, punishment and exclusion, or do we want to create an inviting, inclusive environment where we model and co-create healthier alternatives and inspire competition for ideas and improvement? Are we reacting, fighting and eliminating, or do we choose to become proactive, courageous co-creators?
• How can we promote self-efficacy, self-sustainability and a zest for life-long learning as the foundations for a happy, meaningful and fulfilled life, for the highest good of all beings?
• Are we willing to question ourselves, reflect upon our own issues and resolve them? What is our authority based upon? Do we present ourselves as infallible, or are we willing to admit weaknesses and mistakes towards our children?
• Do our children trust us enough to tell us about their concerns, fears, dreams, visions and aspirations? Do we value what we hear? Are we willing to learn from our children?

Questioning Our Methodology

We cannot find satisfactory, sustainable solutions to the challenges at hand while simmering in our own juice. Because we want to go beyond statistics, scores and prestige projects and get to the soul and spirit of mental health and wellbeing, we need a radical paradigm shift. Can we allow ourselves to think differently, and begin to make a difference for ourselves, our children and our community?

Imagine… what if we tried experiential, imaginative and creative techniques to brainstorm and explore options, such as

• Disney Method
• Birkenbihl Creativity Techniques (especially ABC-lists, eliciting bisociations; KaWa©)
• Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
• Psychodrama

I can deliver introductory presentations or run workshops if desired.

Recommended Resources (detailed lists/more information available upon request):

• Publications on learning, communication, personal development by Vera F. Birkenbihl
• Publications on neurosciences and learning by Prof. Dr. Manfred Spitzer
• Publications and courses by Peter Brodie of Success Parenting, Nottingham

Kathy Eliwa, *1979, mother of three, survivor and survivalist, Empowerment Coach.
Studied Education (major), Psychology & Philosophy (minor) at TU Dresden and FernUni Hagen, Germany. Certified Specialist for Emancipatory Women’s Project Work, Life Coach and NLP Practitioner. Graduate of Visionary Business School, Oregon, USA. Community Coach for Success Parenting, Nottingham. Re-launching private coaching practice in Bristol.

My passion and mission is to facilitate my clients’ evolution from victim to survivor to courageous co-creator. I teach, guide and support people to reclaim ownership of their life and make it happy, fulfilled and meaningful through conscious creation of empowering experiences and encounters.

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