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Mental health wellbeing
Tuesday 27 February 2024

My mental health journey at school

I have struggled with my mental health since I was a child. I developed anxiety and depression whilst I was at school for a variety of different reasons, including being bullied a lot. During my time at primary school, my speech and language difficulties, loud noises and sensory elements and a chaotic school routine caused me to feel anxious.  

Throughout my secondary school experience, anxiety stopped me from wanting to go to school. I would sometimes even pretend to be ill, as I didn’t want to face a school environment where the other pupils and teachers didn’t fully understand me. In sixth form, I wasn’t allowed to do my exams as I was experiencing a mental health crisis.  

Anxiety and depression at the time impacted me in many ways. I self-isolated in the school library due to anxiety about socialising. I felt like not many of my friends really understood what I was going through, and they weren’t helping to support my mental health in the way I needed.


How I look after my mental health

Something that helped to manage my mental health at the time was writing down my feelings in my journal. Tracking my mood helped me to make the teaching staff aware of what situation was triggering my mood, and the physical effects on my mental health.  

Knowing my own triggers and ways to deal with them also helps me manage my mental health. My coping mechanisms include listening to music, writing my feelings down, drawing, or even using fidgety items to help me to fiddle with.  


My advice for autistic young people struggling with their mental health

Never bottle things up, always talk to someone whether it’s a trusted teaching staff member, friend, parent, or a school counsellor. Use the techniques that work best for you to help you cope with how you’re feeling and remember that you matter. It's okay to feel these emotions, you are not weak, and this is part of the recovery process.


Barriers to mental health support for autistic pupils in schools  

I think that autistic young people are more susceptible to mental health challenges as they are often misunderstood. Struggles with sensory elements of being in a school environment are coupled with pressure to be a “typical pupil”. Some expectations can be difficult to live up to, such as making friends, turning up to a lesson on time, and keeping up with schoolwork.  

Unfortunately, many teachers are not properly trained in mental health and autism. Also, they sometimes overlook the ones who are struggling with their mental health as they have so many pupils to cater for.  


What I would like to see change in schools and how Autistic and OK can help

I would like to see more resources available for autistic young people in schools. Everyone is different so the resources must meet different needs.  

The resources in the Autistic and OK toolkit respond to this need as they were co-developed with input from autistic young people like myself.  

Our group of Youth Advisors all have first-hand experience with autism, mental health challenges, and how to tailor support to an individual’s needs. We were able to use our expertise to develop the resources for Autistic and OK. I think the programme will help autistic pupils to look after their own mental health as well as promote more understanding and acceptance of autism in schools generally.    

Find out more about the Autistic and OK programme.

About the author  

Megan joined the Ambitious Youth Network in 2022 and has since taken on the role of Youth Advisor for the Autistic and OK programme and has been a committed member of the team co-developing the toolkit resources. Megan enjoys practising Makaton (sign language), taking part in youth network opportunities, and writing her blog on social media to advocate for autistic people.