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'Why are we not teaching young people how to deal with stress and anxiety?'

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Oliver Welsby, founder of Brightcore Consultancy, is an expert in the field of safeguarding and wellbeing in schools. The National Student sits down with him to discuss mindfulness, mental health and what more can be done to improve the wellbeing of UK students.

Brightcore Consultancy focuses on offering training, support and consultancy on safeguarding, mental health and wellbeing for educational organisations and businesses.

With extensive experience in education as a teacher and safeguarding lead, Oliver has seen first-hand the need for increased support for young people with their mental health and wellbeing.

Image credit: Oliver Welsby, Brightcore Consultancy

“I’ve been in teaching for just over 20 years, and for… just under half of my career as a teacher, I was the Designated Safeguarding Lead,” Oliver tells us. “Over that time, I noticed a considerable increase in young people who were struggling with mental illness – diagnosed and undiagnosed.”

From his work in schools, he recognises an increasing need to develop and improve the mental health support systems for students across the education system.

As part of his work at Brightcore Consultancy, Oliver now encourages educational institutions to offer mindfulness courses to help students and staff alike, having discovered the power of mindful stress management when learning to improve his own feelings of stress.

“I originally took a MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) course because, when I was first appointed as Assistant Head, it was incredibly stressful. I was a head of department, I was Assistant Head of Sixth Form and I was Assistant Head at the same time and just the way things worked out, I had to do a number of roles together,” he says.

“I did the [MBSR] course and thought, well, this is amazing - how this trains your attention to be able to notice when you’re getting stressed and how to… recover from stress.”

Approaching his school’s Headteacher after the course, he recalls, “I said, ‘we should be doing this with young people – why are we not teaching young people how to deal with stress and anxiety [to] prevent what could later turn into serious mental illness if it’s not addressed early on?’”

Teaching mindfulness to students and staff, as well as developing a mental health strategy, Oliver worked to improve the previously underexplored area of mental health support in schools. He received positive feedback from those he worked with, leading him to expand his work, and he used his expertise to reach wider groups of people by setting up Brightcore Consultancy.

Considering the possible reasons for the rise in mental health issues in the UK over recent years, Oliver considers the general high usage of social media and digital technology to be having a negative impact on how we process, manage and communicate our thoughts and emotions.

“I know social media gets a lot of bad press and I don’t really think that’s particularly fair,” he says. “I think when we look at digital technology, it is amazing - the things that you can do, the things that you can find out, the opportunities you can have, the careers you can build, the contacts you can maintain with people globally at no cost. It is brilliant.

“The issue is, as a society, how much time we’re spending on it.”

With many people spending hours on their phones each day, the way that we generally interact and spend our time has significantly changed over past generations. Oliver is concerned that there has been “a societal shift [which] means that we might all be sitting together, but we are not connecting with each other and we’re not talking”.

He says: “We’re social animals. We’re designed to be able to talk and to relive experience and to repeat it. That’s one of the reasons counselling works.”

For anyone struggling with their mental health, Oliver advises, “talk about it.”

“It doesn’t have to be with a counsellor… There are so many amazing organisations providing support, providing information and advice,” he says. “The old phrase, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, is so true.

"Once you start to talk about something, it disempowers it and it starts to make it manageable."

To find out more about Brightcore Consultancy, visit their website here

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