“YOU are what you do and what you do matters.”

Addressing a conference of more than 100 Mental Health Champions from schools around Bradford and District, Dr Pooky Knightsmith spoke about the importance of their role and the benefits they are bringing to the children and young people within their educational workplaces.

Dr Knightsmith, a trustee of the eating disorder charity BEAT and a specialist in child and adolescent mental health working with schools, parents and organisations, isn’t just paying lip service to this very real issue affecting people from all walks of life in our society, she speaks from personal experience having battled with an eating disorder herself.

Among the slides of images during Dr Knightsmith’s informative presentation at Margaret McMillan Tower in Bradford was a photo of her as a child.

“Here is a healthy, happy looking kid but my memory of what I thought about myself before I saw these pictures I always thought I was overweight and ugly and my memory of how I felt was not reflected here at all,” says Dr Knightsmith, referring to the image taken of her when she would have been around seven or eight.

“Sometimes our role can be about looking behind the surface, finding hidden vulnerable children and finding out what is going on with them.”

Dr Knightsmith spoke positively about the Government’s Green Paper exploring children and young people’s mental health and about how schools play an important part in improving children’s mental health.

She also praised the Mental Health Champions initiative in Bradford which developed as part of the Government’s drive to support the mental health needs of children and young people following NHS England’s ‘Future in Mind’ strategy published in 2015 as part of the Mental Health Services Reform.

“You are already quite far ahead of the curve,” says Dr Knightsmith, referring to Bradford as one of the trail blazing places for this type of work.

She says the city is ‘forward-thinking’ and willing to challenge the kind of stereotypes and stigma associated with mental health.

High profile support from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke of Sussex who spearheaded the mental health initiative, Heads Together, is also helping to eliminate the stigma often associated with mental health.

Dr Knightsmith recalls having the opportunity to meet the Duchess of Cambridge previously at Buckingham Palace on World Mental Health Day. “She wasn’t just paying lip service to it - she genuinely cared,” says Dr Knightsmith.

“Having her own children has really awakened this passion in her to make a difference.”

Dr Knightsmith, and the Mental Health Champions gathered at the conference in Bradford, aim to make a difference too.

Dr Knightsmith talked of ‘empowering’ people in the important work they do and discussed how best they can support children and young people. “We all learn all the time. It is really important and sometimes when working with young people we feel we should have all the answers but it is recognising we are all on this journey together - we don’t necessarily know all the answers but we can support them on that journey,” she says.

Dr Knightsmith also spoke about how our experiences shape us. “Our experiences are what makes us who we are,” she explains. “All of us, regardless of our background, can inspire young people we work with.”

Headteacher, Francis Murphy, was another inspiring speaker at the conference who talked about putting relationships and well-being first in schools.

“We know children learn better if they have good mental health and positive relationships in school so we need to continue to raise the profile of mental health in schools,” says Victoria Morris, specialist senior educational psychologist (Mental Health) for Bradford Council.

“This needs to be done in a holistic way and not a tokenistic add on. It needs to be embedded into teaching and learning and a part of everything we do.”

Almost 100 schools in Bradford and district are currently signed up to the Mental Health Champions initiative.

“We really hope through the project we can reduce shame and increase understanding of mental health health in schools, not just for mental health champions but at a whole school level,” adds Victoria.

Visit https://mentalhealthmattersinschools.org.uk.