Pupils wear clothes inside out to shed light on mental health at Abu Dhabi school

The initiative to mark Children's Mental Health Week aims to show that what's going on inside doesn't always show on the outside

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Primary pupils at an Abu Dhabi private school wore their clothes inside out on Friday to encourage conversations about children’s mental health.

The initiative, known as “Inside Out Day”, aims to show that what is going on inside is not always reflected on the outside.

Charlie Barker, a year six head boy at the British School Al Khubairat (BSAK) suggested the idea to mark Children’s Mental Health Week, which runs until Sunday. Inside Out Day is marked at many schools across the UK this week.

“It makes some people talk about how they are feeling on the inside, so it makes me feel really happy,” said Charlie.

“You never know when someone's actually feeling soundly inside. Because … it's sometimes a bit embarrassing talking about how you feel with other people. If you feel sad, you might think that people might say why are you feeling sad?”

“I think wearing something inside out represents what you feel on the inside, you can let it out on this day, and on any day.

“It's about showing awareness that everybody should be talking. So, it might actually get people thinking, ‘Should I talk?’"

Young people's mental health has been hit severely by the Covid-19 pandemic, as many studied online for months, and some for more than a year.

Analysis by the BBC showed there had been a 77 per cent increase in the number of children needing specialist treatment for a severe mental health crisis since 2020 when the pandemic swept across the world.

“A child may look happy and engaged in their learning,” said Sam Walter, assistant head of well-being and pastoral care (nursery-year six) at BSAK.

“However, on the inside, the child may be incredibly anxious, might be in turmoil, might be incredibly upset about whatever's going on at home or about something that's happened on the way to school.

“It's the idea of not judging a book by its cover … the idea that just because you look OK, doesn't mean that you are OK.”

Charlie Barker, a pupil at British School Al Khubairat. Victor Besa / The National

Evelyn Salisbury, a year six BSAK pupil, was another who wore clothes inside out.

“It makes me feel proud of who I am,” she said.

“For a person like me, I have a few worries on my mind. Usually getting rid of them makes me feel nice, especially talking to someone you can trust.”

Schools across the UAE including BSAK are now placing much emphasis on the mental well-being of their pupils.

Suzie Hachez, director of well-being at Cambridge International School Dubai, said 18 of its pupils had been trained as mental health first aiders.

“Being the only school counsellor for school of 2,800, I couldn't be everywhere. So I felt that if I will have some, some pupils understanding would help,” she said.

Evelyn Salisbury, 11, during Inside Out Day at British School Al Khubairat Abu Dhabi during Children’s Mental Health Week.

“The need was there and even more after coming back to face-to-face learning.

“I felt that I needed to have people — literally Suzies — around the school, so that they would be able to do the basic support within class during break time or in physical education classes.”

Zainab Hussain, a 17-year-old Sri Lankan pupil at Cambridge International school Dubai, is a mental health first aider. She said: “Mental health is 24/7, we need to be on call 24/7.

“We never know when someone might need help. This week specifically we targeted kindness. So we gave a five-minute presentation about how they could engage in act of kindness towards each other, such as asking someone who's sitting alone to play with them.

“They an activity where pupils drew pictures of them acting out these gestures of kindness.

“The first aiders have a buddy system in which basically they spend one-to-one time with the pupils.

“The smallest thing can make a very big impact on a pupil. So it's important that we focus on the little things as well as the bigger picture.”

Updated: February 11, 2022, 1:45 PM