Open Mic, Open Minds

Nicole O’Neill, a Year 13 student at The British School of Brussels (BSB), writes about BSB’s ‘Open Mic, Open Minds’ event in February 2019 which set out to challenge the perception of mental health issues amongst teenagers.

News 6 March 2019

The British School of Brussels (BSB) has a history when it comes to public speaking events. In recent years, we worked with the TED organisation to offer students a chance to put their voice out there as so many have before. Once a year, a group of volunteer students would perform a series of speeches on a common theme – such as ‘No Barriers’, which allowed them scope to express their ideas, thoughts and opinions. In 2016, BSB decided to create its own student group: BSB Voices. The goal of the group was the same – to allow students a chance to express their own ideas to both the school and a wider community. This group was composed of both speakers and the student organisational team, hosting events with a fundamental concept, such as ‘Let Freedom Reign’. These events were hugely successful, gaining not only support from the school and its community, but creating discussion and interest. In 2018, we decided to make BSB Voices a CAS activity. This gave us more time and space to plan and organise. Some of us were also part of the student One World Group which had been running during lunchtimes for some years, discussing charitable initiatives and bringing awareness-raising ideas to life. Joining forces to produce 2019’s public speaking event seemed like a natural opportunity and both groups prepared for what became ‘Open Mic, Open Minds.’

As previously mentioned, the One World Group focus on charitable initiatives linked to global issues, like inequality in girls’ education, dementia and, in 2018, ‘Girls Not Brides,’ drawing our attention to the plight of teenagers drawn into premature marriage. ‘Open Mic Open Minds’ set to focus on teenage mental health. This was an entirely student-generated idea, endorsed by the Student Council. Furthermore, staff had recently undergone a series of seminars concerning mental wellbeing and how potential problems could be helped or reduced. It seemed as though the school had mental health in the forefront of its mind. One Year 11 student drew inspiration from a previous BSB campaign concerning dementia, proposing that we focus on teenage mental health and, in accordance with this, raise funds for, and awareness about, the UK-based charity Young Minds. Our student groups accepted the idea enthusiastically. Due to the charity’s discussions concerning mental health issues which the pressures of a school environment can create and its focus on helping and educating the parents of those struggling, the charity seemed an ideal starting point for the first BSB Voices /One World initiative to be explored during CAS hours.

It was then that the group began to explore its options concerning the type of event it would hold. BSB Voices had always been a formal event, particularly that of Spring 2018 in which half the show was dedicated jointly to the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King and the end of the First World War: ‘Let Freedom Reign.’

This event was also held in the local theatre, with sections of the show being performed in Dutch to embrace members of our community. Voices and One World, however, wanted to take a more relaxed approach. In order to incorporate all potential ideas, it was also decided that, whilst the theme of the night would be mental health, there would be no strict brief that the contents of each speech would have to stick to. After a design competition for the group’s logo, it became apparent that auditions would need to be held relatively quickly in order to accommodate for a potential lack or overflow of volunteer speakers and musicians. The auditions took place around November, which meant that all performers were aware of their involvement before the Christmas holidays, allowing them time to practise and refine their performances.  The date of ‘Open Mic, Open Minds’ was set for 7 February. Furthermore, after a suggestion from a staff member, the group went ahead with booking guest performer John Hegley – a well-known performance poet and musician with experience in contributing to events concerning mental health. ‘May Contain Nuts’ was a project in which he discussed what we have called the ‘destigmatisation’ of mental health, allowing yourself and others to speak of mental health issues in the same breath as physical illness. Mental ill health is not something which happens to ‘other people.’

“You should be able to talk of an ailment of the mind as easily as one of the body. A fractured mind should be defined as readily as one to the shinbone. Healing and recovery is common in both and will be assisted by being able to discuss the problem without feeling you will be judged to be suffering from an insufferable lurgy of the inner being.”

John Hegley

Throughout this organisational process, the One World Group undeniably experienced some difficulties. Student leadership brings the opportunity to learn though. Although the event was advertised from November onwards, we realised somewhat too late, that it had not generated the audience we felt it deserved. Communication was sometimes tricky. The group was somewhat inexperienced in creating an event of this calibre and, therefore, often reacted to problems as they occurred, rather than implementing measures to prevent them beforehand.

Almost every problem, however, was solved with efficiency and common sense -like the decision to host the event in school rather than in the local theatre as planned. It became apparent rather quickly that the logistics of creating an intimate ‘open mic’-like feeling in a large theatre was simply unrealistic. Therefore, the event was hosted in the school’s Brel Theatre, which also relieved some of the pressure for the performers as their stage was an environment with which they were incredibly familiar.

The event itself was ultimately better than we could have imagined. Our speakers and performers were clearly filled with passion and enthusiasm, interacting with and impressing all members of the audience. There were moments of fun and laughter, but also more serious and thought-provoking messages. The speeches grabbed the audience’s attention whilst discussing a variety of topics, ranging from the effects social media can have on self-esteem to just how fundamental music can be to a person’s life. All of the night’s performers did an incredible job and the One World Group are incredibly thankful for all the effort they put in to make ‘Open Mic, Open Minds’ as special as it was. Due to donations and a series of fundraising activities during the Christmas period, BSB was able to donate over 5.000 euros, not only to Young Minds, but also to Facing the World, a charity that the school has supported yearly during this period.

The One World and BSB Voices groups are thankful for the generosity of the school community, both in its donations and its high praise of the event, and hope to have raised awareness of, challenged the stigma surrounding and provoke thought about mental health.

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