In light of International Women’s Day, we want to highlight the role that the education system plays in the mental health and well-being of girls and young women. In the video above, Maya, a Wicklow Sudbury student, discusses how her experience at our school has been different from her experiences at other schools and how beneficial being at Wicklow Sudbury has been for her mental health.
When I see the students of Wicklow Sudbury students spending their days socialising, studying and working on their passions, doing club activities and playing, and just generally spending their time in the way that they find most constructive and enjoyable, I feel excited about all the great things they’ll achieve. I also feel a bit envious at times thinking about the head start these kids have for figuring out what their interests are and beginning to pursue their goals and dreams from such a young age. It is especially inspiring to see the girls of the school thriving, not held back by gendered stereotypes or the typical high school drama.
Their experiences in Wicklow Sudbury are so different from what I experienced in the traditional education system. Even though I got good grades and was seen as an overachiever, my education sapped my creativity and left me directionless – I entered university as ‘undecided’. And because I got good grades and it seemed like the system worked for me, my well-being was often taken for granted.
My story is not uncommon. Women and girls are more likely to seek help for emotional and psychological problems than men and boys, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to assume that, if they don’t seek help, they don’t need it.
Gillian O’Brien of Jigsaw, a national organisation that provides mental health services for young people, explains that, “Stereotypically, men don’t seek help and that engenders more fear in us. We feel we don’t really know what’s going on with young men and maybe we got a bit complacent about girls. We think girls will ask for help if they need it. But not all young females are capable of expressing themselves and of looking for help – just like not all males ask for help.”
While there are a good number of girls in Wicklow Sudbury now, it is more common for families to enroll boys in our school and in Sudbury schools in general. Part of the reason for this is that, when boys are struggling in traditional schools, they express it in some way, whereas girls are more likely to just endure school and work hard whether they are struggling or not. But it’s clear that girls in Ireland are struggling, with recent statistics showing Ireland has the highest rate in Europe for young girls taking their own lives.
The teenage girls in Wicklow Sudbury have experienced the struggles of traditional school first hand, and it’s clear that being in the Wicklow Sudbury School community has had positive affects. Unlike traditional school, we prioritise students’ mental health and well-being, and we regularly hold well-being meetings, check-ins, and consent workshops.
While some parts of the world are still fighting for equal access to education for women, I think Ireland and other Western countries need to concentrate on making education not only accessible, but also supportive and democratic, so young women are able to learn in a safe environment that helps them along the path to self discovery rather than distracting them from it.
And let us know what you think. Do you identify with the struggles young women often face in mainstream schools? How do you support the young women and girls in your life?
Written by Rachel Kuhn