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Mental health issues brought into focus by pupils’ brave video

By Allan Preston

For students at an all-boys school, opening up about their mental health in front of their peers can be a terrifying prospect.

But at Campbell College in Belfast, pupils have taken the brave step of speaking out in a new video campaign for the NSPCC.

Members of the champion Schools Cup rugby team, teachers and past pupils - including retired Ireland rugby international Gordon Hamilton - took part in the project which aims to "start the conversation".

Vice-principal Chris Oswald heads up pastoral care at the school, but admitted getting more than an 'I'm fine' from male pupils can be tough.

"It can be difficult to get more beyond that," he said.

"That's why services like Childline can be so important. We had to get that across to some of our older pupils that it's for them as well."

He said he was "blown away" by the response from those stepping forward.

"It was lovely that we won the Schools Cup this year so we asked some of our team if they would say a few words and they were more than happy.

"The captain of the hockey team was the same.

"We have 156 pupils boarding at Campbell as well, so it's not always easy to be away from home.

"We didn't script what they had to say so it was fascinating to hear, 'You should talk to someone'.

"It's early days, but it was a massive step in the right direction. The feedback from the boys was great. It's so important to talk about it because the statistics for young men in self-harm and suicide is scary."

Student Oscar from the school's rugby team said: "I suppose boys are less likely to open up about their feelings because of social representation of what they have to behave like.

"When people speak out it's a weight off their chest and it feels so much better when it does happen."

Hockey captain Sam said: "In society now everyone's so protective of themselves and less likely to keep everything bottled up.

"With experience, you're more likely to face your problems head on."

School governor and former rugby star Gordon Hamilton said: "The mentality always was that you had to be tough, and to be tough you didn't say anything. You swallowed your tongue, didn't speak up and kept it all to yourself and that just makes the matter so much worse."

Joanne McMaster from the NSPCC urged young people to think about their mental health on international children's day.

He said: "Start that conversation with someone you trust and ask for the help you need.

"You can buy your badge and help children and young people to speak out and to stay safe in Northern Ireland."

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