Livin’ in America!
As someone who grew up in Los Angeles for much of their early life, and the remainder in the good ol’ city of Birmingham, UK, I have always embraced a dual identity. When it comes to waiting in a queue, complaining about the weather, or saying ‘I’m puzzled by this request,’ when I haven’t got the time or energy to do whatever my line manager is asking me to, I am British. When it comes to saying ‘hi’ and beginning conversations with random strangers- despite it being obvious that I’m irritating them- I am American. When it comes to my life-long-Samuel-L.-Jackson-therapy-requiring idolisation, I’m American. And of course, when it comes to Twinkies, Hershey’s, or a Santa Monica sunset, I am one American mother fucker, mother fucker.
The response from The Orange One and his supporters to the recent school shooting is thankfully ludicrous in the mind of the British. You can text everyone in your phone right now and you will probably not find anyone who believes that more guns are the solution. Our non-orange, although pesky, politicians would not argue it: I have never felt so British.
The focus of this blog however, is not gun control. It is about what the Americans and us have spectacularly failed to protect. We may still moan about the weather, we may still give people a bell, we may still do sweet FA, and a good place or thing may still be described as the dogs bollocks. While we retain the aforementioned British values, an alarming trend in American society has nonetheless made its way to Little England: the failure to protect mental health.
You do not have to google for long before you find enough statistics to back up the former. So where am I going with this you ask? Well, allow me to explain- and I kindly ask that you read until the end lest you draw the wrong conclusion.
Throughout my entire British life, I have seen Britain becoming America. The food, the celebrity-worship, the body dysmorphia, the poverty, the gang violence, and the desperate need for people (once known as those with a stiff upper lip) to express every emotion the moment they experience it, has now become the new norm. To this new norm, we can add the use of anxiolytics and antidepressants to heal the broken mind. Antidepressants used by Nikolas Cruz, the latest American school shooter.
Erm . . . No! Absolutely not! I am not saying that anyone using psychiatric drugs is a potential killer. That would be both ignorant and offensive in equal measure. In my case, it would actually be hypocritical also, as I was prescribed beta-blockers as an NQT. In addition to this, statistically, 11% of my colleagues are using antidepressants and I do not view them as described.
What I am saying however, is that no event exists in a vacuum: killers are made not born. As a society, I believe we have a shared responsibility for ensuring the well-being of others. The ease of access to guns in the US is only one (albeit major) part of what makes a school shooter but the intent to commit such atrocities comes from underlying issues- issues which I am not qualified to speak on. What cannot be disputed however, is that these types of killers are not well and given the current state of our mental health as a nation, I unnervingly suspect there are a lot of school shooters in the UK: they just haven’t shot anyone yet.
As long as we take care of our mental health, we’ll be fine . . . right?
Thankfully, the mental health crisis has been recognised by the masses and even schools now promote the concept of well-being. While this is all well and good, I feel that there is a disproportionate amount of responsibility being placed on the individual. I mean, people are often told to practice CBT, go running, be exposed to more sunlight, decrease their caffeine intake, speak to friends, etc. and this is all brilliant. The problem with this alone though, is that it decreases the responsibility on those in power- putting it crudely- to not fuck up people’s mental health in the first place. The media is guilty of harming people’s mental health by promoting an unrealistic image of beauty; the senior leaders who treat staff like shit when they refuse to do Saturday intervention sessions are guilty. This is ok as long as people can look after themselves? I don’t think so.
Those you invite into your life, (and indeed those you don’t) are as responsible for your mental well-being as you are. In short, as we live in a shared society and no event exists in a vacuum, the responsibility for mental health is a shared one and while we promote the well-being of the self to pupils and to staff, we must demand a broader approach if we want to be a happier nation. We must make it our duty to look after the mental well-being of those around us as well as our own.
Ancient wisdom tells us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves; let us make the well-being of others a priority. Let us be careful, and make sure that other negative trends never make their way here.
By Omar Akbar
For more advice and guidance check out The Unofficial Teacher’s Manual: What they don’t teach you at training college. Available on Amazon £6.75/£3.99