This is a big
month for the school, as you know. 
Traditionally, Bedford School has been the most prolific fundraising
school in the country for Movember and of course we would wish that this year
is the same.  It is a wonderful
opportunity for us to do some real good for people in need – and please do all
contribute something toward the cause.

It makes me
particularly proud, however, that such a high number of boys in this room wish
to contribute to the education of mens’ health issues, both physical and
mental.  Men, traditionally, have not
been good at talking about their issues and therein lies a very big problem; it
is only by trusting others and being honest about ourselves that we can really
solve the health issues we have, no matter how embarrassing they might
seem.  So today sees my small Movember
contribution to that education, in recompense for the fact that, in my extreme
lack of manliness, you won’t see a moustache growing on this upper lip –
there’s nothing to grow!

Teenage mental
health issues in this country have reached an all-time high.  On the one hand, one might conceivably see
this as good news, a result of the fact that we are nowadays more willing to
talk about our own issues openly, rather than bottle them up for them to get
worse.  But on the other hand, of course,
this is deeply worrying and saddening. 
It has never been easy to be a teenager; but equally, every time I come
into contact with experts on teenage mental health issues, it seems that there
are only a small number of very basic guidelines to follow to give you a great
chance of a good level of mental health. 
So here are the five things that come up time and again.  Please do think about them and put them into

1. Routine  
Humans are creatures of habit; and it is well
known that most people need structure in their lives.  The school, fortunately, is set up with structure
and routine in mind.  The main thing for you
on this front is not to let things slip; if you are feeling a bit out of sorts
in the morning, it is usually far better to drag yourself in; if you do not
feel much like going to your club that lunchtime, get yourself along anyway.

2. Eat well
Again, the school is well set up for
this.  But do take an interest in what
you eat; if you eat healthily, regularly and fully, you will feel much better
for it.

3. Exercise and
fresh air
If you enjoy sport, again
this is easy at Bedford.  But not
everybody enjoys sport, so if you do not relish it, do at least ensure you recognise
the benefits of exercise and fresh air, not only physically, but also
mentally.  Do not sit inside all day.

4. And 5
I am going to take the last two together: rationing
screen time and getting good sleep. 
There is no doubt whatsoever that screen time used well can be extremely
positive; it is clearly important that you are comfortable as part of the
digital age.  However, there are also
plenty of studies to connect abuse of screen time with a range of health issues
and it is not too far-fetched to suggest that the Ancient Greek adage, meden
agan (nothing in excess), exists today as much as it ever did.  You may be more interested to hear of a
Cambridge University research only two years ago which suggested that
who spend an extra hour a day on screens will see a fall in GCSE results
equivalent to two grades overall; an extra two hours meant 4 grades down.  TV was a particularly low scorer on this

The sleep statistics
are even more alarming.  In a survey of
over 2,500 pupils this year at HMC schools (ie schools like ours), 45% of
school children admitted to sleeping with their mobiles next to their bed and
checking their mobiles after going to bed. Of these, 94% are on social media
after bedtime.  AND YET,
of students say that using their mobile devices at night affects their school
work; and a quarter of students also say they feel tired during the day because
of how often they use their mobile device at night.  Why do they do it, therefore?  I’d suggest that for many, it is the same
reason why screen time can result in worse GCSE grades – people can become
addicted to the screen, largely due to social concerns; and indeed 38% of
students said they’d be curious to know what’s happening if they didn’t check
their mobile device before going to sleep. 

If you are one of these people, you NEED to use your
brains for the solution:  the
recommendation is 90 minutes without screen time before bed; and no screens at
all in the bedroom.  This will help
you.  If you simply cannot do that, then
you probably need some more extended time away from screens, which will require
significant willpower, and quite possibly the help of others.  The first thing is to recognise the problem
and admit to it.

So five things to think about as we head into Movember:

  • Maintaining routines
  • Eating well
  • Fresh air and exercise
  • Moderation of screen time
  • Good sleep

Lastly, look out for yourselves and each other; because
there is in fact a sixth guideline which is as important as all of the others
put together.  If you take one message
away from the month of Movember, it should be this: if you are concerned about
yourself, or another, then speak up.  It
is only by having and open and encouraging atmosphere in the school, which we
must all aim to foster and respect, that we can help look out for ourselves and
each other.  No matter how embarrassed or
worried you feel, find somebody to talk to and speak up.  

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