Personal views on well-being

Two students provided valuable perspective and advice at the recent
Friends Listen Assembly at Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview.

 JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH 

By Dr Paul HinePrincipal, Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview

Adolescence is a critical stage in the transition from child to adult. It is also a time for developing social and emotional habits that are important for mental health, well-being and coping strategies across the heady years when maturation and life lessons are learned, the corollary of which carries over well into adult life.

Among other things, this includes adopting healthy sleep patterns, exercising regularly, developing problem-solving and interpersonal skills, as well as learning to manage emotions. The latter can be particularly challenging when hormonal changes are the concomitant of the process, but essential nonetheless to promote well-being and the ability to cope with adversity and grief amid times of rapid and profound change. And there is no doubt that protective and supportive environments in the family, at school and in the wider community are integral to navigating adolescence, recognising that there will be difficulties that emerge along the way.

Prithviraj Shrivastav (second from left) spoke about the loss of his father and how it necessitated not only personal and emotional coping skills, but significant cultural adaptation and strength. Ambrose Hennessy (third from left) spoke passionately about the work of the Black Dog Institute, a mental health agency that was begun by his grandfather.

Mental health, coping with grief and dealing with adversity were the focus of our recent Friends Listen Assembly. Two senior students spoke with great insight and conviction, providing significant encouragement for young men to stay strong and seek support during such times. Prithviraj Shrivastav, a boarder in Year 12 who arrived in Australia from India in 2022, spoke about the loss of his father and how it necessitated not only personal and emotional coping skills, but significant cultural adaptation and strength. Some extracts of Prithviraj’s address to the student body are as follows:

“The first person a young child idolises is their father. For me, that was my father … a doctor, a pioneer in his chosen field of infectious diseases and virology. In April 2022, he had a heart attack on his way to work, subsequently passing away six months later. The loss of a parent at any age is unfathomable, however the tender age of 15, it exacerbates grief. … I was a boy forced to become a man overnight. I carried out my father’s last rites in full Hindu accordance and delivered his eulogy to a room of 500.

“Subsequently, shifting countries and cultures brought about another assortment of challenges. Struggles I encountered included the overarching cultural change, overcoming a thick Indian accent and a difference in the style of education.

“However, the story gets better. I have been blessed to meet and connect with many students, teachers and coaches. I found comfort in talking to people close to me. My family always have been my rock.

“My father is still very much a part of my life. In my room in the boarding house, I’ve got a picture of Dad on the wall. Every day, before heading off to school I write across my hand – ‘DO IT FOR DAD’.

“My message to anyone else navigating a situation of hardship is: ‘this too shall pass’. For the boys who know someone in a tough time, even if you are not close, I implore you – reach out. The kindness of a few words of support can do a world of good. Finally, you’ll never walk alone.”

Ambrose Hennessy, House Captain of Xavier House, Proctor and Captain of Boats for 2024, spoke passionately about the work of the Black Dog Institute – a mental health agency that was begun by his grandfather in the aftermath of significant and ongoing mental health issues in his family. While we know that mental health is a scourge that affects many young boys and girls, the need to speak to this in an open, frank and forward-looking manner is believed to be important.

There is a range of factors that can affect mental health. The more risk factors adolescents are exposed to, the greater is the potential impact on their mental health. Risk factors that, among others, contribute to stress during adolescence include exposure to adversity, pressure to conform with peers and issues associated with self-esteem and identity. Media influences, particularly social media distortions and misrepresentations, gender norms, perfectionism and disabilities can exacerbate the disparity between an adolescent’s lived reality and their perceptions or aspirations for the future. Other important determinants include the quality and stability of family life, relationships with peers, powerlessness and disadvantage. Ambrose encouraged the boys to be outward-looking when social or emotional difficulties emerge – to be connected to community and to seek help when necessary.

These personal insights enable the boys to understand that they are not alone: that all young people encounter hardship and adversity, be it through the loss of loved ones, mental health or a range of circumstances that are encountered in life.

Perhaps part of the answer in responding to such situations lies in the profound understanding that Viktor Frankl brought to the world over half a century ago in his much-vaunted work: ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’. While it is a memoir of survival among the most difficult of life conditions experienced in the Nazi concentration camps, it is also a literary shrine to the power of love – that fundamental human quality that can lead to happiness and contentment in the daily realities of life.

Prithviraj spoke powerfully of the love for his father: “One of my father’s favourite sayings in Hindi is:

That translates to: ‘This is the beauty of life. Sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet, but living it is a different kind of joy.’ I have often used this as solace to endure life’s ups and downs.”

Prithviraj and Ambrose graced us with wonderful insights, and for that we are all the beneficiaries and immensely grateful.

This is an adaptation of an article that was originally published in a recent edition of the ‘Viewpoint’ newsletter for Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview.

Banner image by kemalbas, Canva

 

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