We spoke to Clare Erasumus, founder of #familyMH5aday, TES contributor, and member of the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools advisory board, about mental health, wellbeing and sharing the TEDx stage with her children.
Tell us a bit about how #familyMH5aday came about.
I am a 5-day working mum and I often find it tough juggling work and home-life and sometimes the exhaustion of it all just makes me want to quietly disappear. When I have up and coming deadlines, there are times where I welcome the diversion, where the young people in my life can switch off from making any demands on me. It started to feel like it was easier to disconnect than engage in ‘Real Time’ relationships. I started to notice this not only with my own family but with families around me too. It was from this very harsh realization of a looming, ever encroaching toxic family lifestyle in our culture that the campaign #familyMH5aday was started
As a teacher and Lead on whole school Mental wellbeing, I wanted to find ways to engage parents in the conversation around Positive Mental Wellbeing and how we can embrace this concept with small lifestyle shift and focus. However, I did not want it to be ‘another lecture’ or ‘another email’ sent out. Parents, like me, shut down when we are lectured at. I knew it had to be something they tried out with their children. I wanted to ensure we started to actively engage in the conversation of what it looked like. As a parent and a teacher, I also knew I had to ‘walk the walk’ before I could ‘talk the talk.’ I had to lead by example. I started to realise that I needed to refocus what was important to me – my family relationships and ensure that our family lifestyle worked at trying to move from surviving to thriving.
#familyMH5aday was launched in my house to take back control over our family lifestyle and it somehow gave us a framework to work from.
The Principles are simple.
You and your daughter Rosie recently gave a TED talk at TEDx NorwichED. How was that?
It will be one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. The support from the TEDx organizers and the fellow speakers was incredible – I really recommend this event and Tim Handley who is the whizz behind it all. The inimitable Jaz Ampaw-Farr was the force behind me, encouraging me to submit a talk. What an incredible motivator she is and her story is phenomenal – Every teacher needs to watch Jaz Ampaw-Farr’s TEDx video on The Power of Every day Heroes.
I remember when she prompted me to apply – I was thinking that’s all very well but you have to have something interesting to say!
When I thought about sharing the #familyMH5aday message I knew it had to be shared with my two kids. When they both said they were up for sharing the idea I was delighted. We wrote the speech together and I had to make sure there were not any words they did not understand and that they supported every point. They are my best critics and often pick me up on any hypocrisy. We had LOTS of discussions about what should go in and how it should be said. Rosie’s confidence was incredible – she really owned that stage and the message and Matthew’s cameo was perfect. Sharing the stage with my daughter and having my son appear in the video clip was too precious for words.
The whole event was warm, encouraging, sincere and everyone’s narrative was very moving. There was such passion in that room and it was an incredible honour to be invited. So many highlights to share but if I had to mention a few I would really encourage readers to watch Vivienne Porritt, Dr Neil Hawkes, Elizabeth Wright , Dr Pooky Knightsmith, and Angela Brownes’ TEDx videos.
You can watch the video here
You recently delivered lectures and workshops at the TEACHFIRST Summer conference up in Leeds. Can you tell us about that experience?
It was fantastic to be able to talk to new teachers entering the profession all about strategies for supporting youth mental health. My 4 years experience of being a Head of student mental wellbeing and my 20 years teaching experience has enabled me to offer extremely practical advice on strategies which every school teacher can do.
You are very active on Social Media, what part do you see it playing in the future development of mental health services in schools?
Emails destroy my soul. Surfing the web for answers takes up much time. Twitter is quick and immediate for me as I can follow the figures, from around the globe, who are major contributors in the MHWB sector. It is great as I can DM then for a quick answer if I have a question. l also hear what is current and topical. I am not on any other form of social media and I only use Twitter for further research and networking.
Teaching itself can be a very lonely existence as you seldom get to network with other people who share your passion – it enables this. PLUS when you are breaking new ground, like I was 4 years ago as one of the UK’s first Heads of Mental Health – I found Twitter to be an incredible resource as it enabled me to seek, read, share, listen and collaborate on a scale much quicker than any other form of digital media. That’s how I came across you and the wonderful platform you offer encouraging and sharing the debate. I do have to watch my use which is why we introduced ‘Heartbreak Motel’ in our house which is at dinner time; we park all our digital devices so the kids have a ‘digital free’ build up to bed time with their parents. I do sometimes go back on – after they are in bed – as that is my quiet time for writing my book or getting on with more research and prep.
Given the budget pressures on schools at the moment, what would be your advice for low-cost strategies to improve mental health and wellbeing in schools?
Really interesting you should ask this as the book I am currently writing for Jessica Kingsley Publishers and it is exactly about low-cost strategies to support the mental health of students and develop a wellbeing culture in schools. If all goes well the book is due to be published in 2019. The best advice I can give is it is about changing the values in the school ensuring everyone subscribes to the same set of holistic values and it’s a place driven by shared values, not top down rules. I also think it is vital that schools do their research first and listen to the mental health and wellbeing needs of the school staff and student body. Every school and its demographic will have different needs which means we need to respond according to the specific need. If you are going to spend money then it should be on properly training all staff and the student wellbeing ambassadors on the signs to look out for and the importance of listening and developing relationships. Also, ensuring spaces are set up every lunchtime, with staff doing paid lunchtime duties, so that students have a place to self refer and carry on the conversation about mental health in an environment where people are trained to listen. A few years ago I wrote an article in TES about growing a wellbeing strategy. I believe it is still applicable today.
How do you look after your own mental health and wellbeing?
Good question. I try and make sure I am factoring in the 5 G.R.E.A.T. values each day/week with my family and after completing the Mindfulness in Schools Project dot b mindfulness course I practice mindfulness every morning before I go into school and before I get home from work, I work at being active with long walks on the sea front, yoga, 5 rhythm dancing and I have recently taken up windsurfing again which was a sport I enjoyed as a youth in South Africa. I also make sure I hang around people who I think are amazing – who inspire me – another reason why you find me on twitter – the wellbeing warriors on twitter are my digital family. One of my targets this year is to practice the rule of 8. 8 hours sleep. 8 hours work and 8 hours personal time. It’s all about time management and the confidence to say ENOUGH. Of course there will be days where it stretches more towards work – that is the nature of our teaching vocation but if it can’t be done in an 8-10 hour work day then it can’t be done.