21 October 2021

This month, we've been shining a spotlight on our mental health for quite a few reasons. It was World Mental Health Day on 10 October, the start of a new term often brings anxiety as well as excitement, the shorter days mean a lower mood for many, and 18 long months of the Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all, no matter our circumstances or where in the world we come from.

In fact, UEL's 17,600 students come from all over the world. Our students represent a whopping 140 different nationalities and almost half of them - 45.4% - come from outside the UK. Among them is Ashlei Douglas, a second-year public health student from Louisiana, USA, whose own experiences with overcoming her mental health issues inspired her find a way to help young children who may be similarly affected.

Since the age of eight, Ashlei has been a member of the Girl Scouts of America, the leading youth leadership development organisation in the US with 1.8m members. Ashlei recently earnt the Girl Scouts Gold Award, the highest achievement within the organisation, something that very few manage to do.

Ashlei was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder at the age of eighteen. Her experience helped inspire her idea for her Gold Award submission, which took the form of a lesson plan suitable for children aged ten and eleven that helps them identify and deal with stress.

Ashlei said, "I open a discussion with the students on the definition of stress, asking them if they know what it is and if any of them have experienced it. We delve into how to identify when stress or other negative emotions are present, how to cope with them, and how to ask trusted adults for help. I included simple activities such as a stress-related word search and a fill-in-the-blank schedule about one's average day."

It took Ashlei around a year to put her project together, working alongside her troop leader, former teacher and school counsellor before putting it into practice at two local primary schools where she was teaching. Her lesson will also be used by a local summer camp next summer.

Her timing was fortuitous as it ended up being taught three months before the pandemic began in the US. Ashlei said, "Although the pandemic is something that couldn't be controlled, identifying specific things that it affected, be it a lack of time outside or a disruption to one's schedule, could certainly help young students and their parents try to handle these changes."

Ashlei herself benefitted from the work she did. She said, "Identifying my stressors has made it much, much easier for me to not only cope with my stress but to also control the circumstances that cause it.

"I think that university students have a lot of new responsibilities on their plates, and in my experience, acknowledging what is causing stress makes it easier for students to discuss their stress with those who care about them and can help them."

Ashlei is due to graduate in 2023 and is aiming to complete a Master's in Public Health and Business before embarking on a career in public health.

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