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Monday, March 23, 2020

Guest Post #5 - Debating and mental health


This week we welcome a guest post from Laura Wallis on debating and mental health.

Laura Wallis is the Director of Debating Mental Health, an organisation that equips young people with mental health needs with the skills, confidence and knowledge they need to speak out on what matters to them in mental health.  She was involved in public speaking, debating and Model United Nations throughout her academic career and has also coached young debaters across the UK and internationally. She has been commended for her work by both Prince William and (when she was Prime Minister) Teresa May.

We were delighted to welcome Laura to Godolphin and Latymer School on March 12th 2020 for a stimulating workshop on debating and mental health as part of the school's inspiring Challenge Your Limits week.

What can debating do for students with mental health needs?

Learning to debate and participating in formal debate offers a number of benefits to children and young people.  These are not limited to but include: confidence-building; learning to structure and develop an argument; listening to others and; understanding perspectives that differ from your own.  These skills, of course, are important for all children and young people to develop, but are especially helpful for young people who may be struggling with their mental health.

Confidence and resilience

Young people who are (or have been) struggling with their mental health will often have struggled with low self-esteem, as the result of experiencing something that is still, to varying degrees, stigmatised and which may have resulted in extended periods away from education.  Problems with low self-esteem and low self-confidence may prevent young people from fully engaging at school or with mental health services and professionals they may be in contact with.  By empowering young people to speak out and be heard through debating, we support them to realise that their voice is powerful and that what they have to say is important.  That’s important because when children and young people believe in themselves, they engage better in school and feel hopeful for their futures, which improves their chances of success in whatever they decide they want to do. 

Competitive debate

When I tell people that I coach young people with mental health support needs to debate, I am frequently asked how debate can support young people who are, perhaps, vulnerable and lacking in confidence, when competitive debate potentially means losing.  Firstly, competitive debate can also mean winning; working closely with a team of your peers, throwing yourself into something and then winning, which is an exhilarating feeling.  Secondly, as exciting as winning a debate can be, not winning a debate also carries with it many lessons.  When a team doesn’t place first, they’ll go away and evaluate their performance, look to improve and work hard to achieve that outcome.  In this way, not winning also supports the development of resilience in children and young people, as they learn to cope with life’s knockbacks, to handle those appropriately and to move on.

The learning and practice of competitive debate supports young people to grow their confidence, raise their voices and be heard.  This can be life-changing for any young person, but for those who often feel silenced and stigmatised by society, the results can be even more powerful.



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