PSYCHOLOGY: Past pupil offers mental health tips

A-level psychology student ANNA MILLIONS picked up some top stress-busting tips from a past pupil who is passionate about encouraging good mental health in the workplace

RIPON Grammar School alumni Jackie Shears recently zoomed into sixth form’s psychology society, answering questions about her fascinating career, and offering her top tips for maintaining good mental health.

Having studied psychology at university, Jackie began her career on a graduate trainee scheme, focusing on purchasing and supply. Here she learned how to buy computer systems, leading to a role in the NHS which supported hospitals in buying large IT systems.She then helped to implement NHS Direct, a service she designed which offers health advice over the phone. The scheme has proved highly successful, taking more than two million calls per month over the course of the pandemic, when remote guidance is more important than ever.

She now works for the large research project Our Future Health which is looking to collect data from five million people to establish early signs of disease, before the onset of symptoms.

Passionate about mental health in the workplace, Jackie also runs her own company Healthy Minds Healthy Business, in which she delivers training to help develop mentally healthy workplaces.

Jackie offered some of this training to the psychology students of RGS. She first asked us to consider the mental health continuum, running from great mental wellness at the top, to terrible mental wellness at the bottom. The intersecting line runs from a comprehensive mental health diagnosis on the left, to no diagnosis on the right. She noted that lack of diagnosis does not mean severe mental illness is not present, it just means chances of improvement are massively reduced whereas95% of people with a diagnosis are able to make a full recovery.

She likened the diagnosis of mental health issues to that of physical diseases –if someone with diabetes remains untreated, it doesn’t mean they don’t have the condition, it just means they will continue to live with significant symptoms. No-one would suggest that a diabetic should not seek treatment, so no-one should prevent those with illnesses such as depression from seeking treatment either – mental health is just as valid as physical. She emphasised that diagnosis is not something to hold someone back, but instead helps them to move forward; it can be empowering, encouraging people to seek help.

Jackie then went onto discuss the concept of the mind being a ‘stress container’. Everyone has different stresses and different sized containers but, so long as the stress outlets are effective in preventing overflow, stress doesn’t have to be a problem. Good stress outlets could include exercise, music, meditation – anything that switches off your thinking brain. Too many stressors and not enough outlets leads to a snap reaction, but this can be prevented. Jackie suggested jotting down everything in your stress container, beginning by crossing out things you have no evidence for – internally generated worries. Next cross out things you have no control over, and check that you are exercising control over what you can. You should find the list to be considerably reduced.

Jackie’s talk was highly insightful, especially at a time when stress is mounting as A-levels approach. It is more important than ever for sixth form students to practise positive mental health habits, ensuring it remains a priority as study intensity increases. 

*Read Jackie Shears's story here