Writer and school tackle mental health taboo

One of the UK’s rising writing stars has underlined a Northumberland school’s commitment to raise awareness of teenagers’ mental health problems.180927a_001

Holly Bourne, whose eighth book for young adults has just been published, said the issue had been a taboo subject for too long.

“Books are a really safe way of exploring the darker parts of the human experience,” she told 14 and 15-year-olds at Cramlington Learning Village.author-holly-bourne-with-cramlington-learning-village-student-millie

“You can’t give somebody a mental health problem by talking about it.  You can actually really help people and open up those streams of support so people will feel less alone,” she said.

Her visit to the school coincided with the publication by the National Literacy Trust of a major study into the link between the mental wellbeing of children and their level of engagement in reading and writing during their free time.

Nearly 50,000 UK children and young people, aged between eight and 18, took part in a survey which found that those who are most engaged are three times more likely to have higher levels of mental wellbeing than those who are not.

The study also found that their levels of literacy engagement and mental wellbeing start to decline and continue to decline when they move from primary to secondary school.

Holly – whose new novel “Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes” is one of five Young Adult books recommended in the Trust’s report – praised the way Cramlington Learning Village encourages its students to keep reading.author-holly-bourne-and-cramlington-learning-villages-students

“It’s amazing to be in a school which really fosters and nurtures a love of reading for pleasure. There is so much evidence that reading for pleasure has such a beneficial impact on young people – from increasing their empathy levels to improving their mental health.”

Before becoming a full-time writer, Holly spent six years working for a youth charity helping young people with their relationships and mental health. She said all of her books examine subjects that people are usually too scared to talk about.

The main character in “Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes?” is struggling with her mental health until she decides to try to make the world a kinder place.  Holly has just finished her second book for adults and her next novel for teenagers is due to be published next year.  News about television versions of two of her books is imminent, she said.

Holly is the latest in a long line of high profile authors to visit Cramlington Learning Village, where discussions about teenagers’ mental health have become an important aspect of the school’s regular Well Being Days. Encouraging reading – both for study and pleasure – is also one of the school’s priorities.

“We are fortunate that so many writers choose to come to the school.  Some of our students are big fans of Holly’s work, so it was great for them to meet her,” said librarian Eileen Armstrong. “”For all students, though, I hope it was valuable to hear her message – which echoes what we say – that nobody has to suffer in silence.  It’s OK to talk.”

Holly – in turn – is a big fan of Cramlington Learning Village.  “The library here, for example, is really treasured and it makes me sad that all schools are not like that because it’s so good for young people to read stories. They are such a safe way to make sense of their lives,” she said.

An author from further afield is visiting the school in October. Canadian Susin Nielsen spent much of her career writing for TV shows, before her first young adult novel appeared in 2008. That was followed by her second book – Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom – two years later. Her new novel No Fixed Address has just been published.