Primary school teacher and Miss Northern Ireland Anna Leitch is supporting a children’s mental health poetry competition organised by local charity AWARE, the depression charity for Northern Ireland. The 28-year-old teacher and Miss World finalist who graduated last summer with a Masters in educational leadership stated that she “has a responsibility to be a role model to promote mindfulness and positive mental health for young people”.
Anna said, “It’s important we teach young people the range of emotions. From a young age children might only know they are happy or sad, but we all have a wide range of feelings and emotions that includes nervousness, being annoyed and worried as well as excitement.
“As well as talking about how we are feeling, which is so important, we can put pen to paper that it is a great way for teachers to understand how children are feeling if they can’t express themselves verbally.
“We’re trying to normalise the topic of mental health within schools and start these important conversations within our classrooms”, said Anna.
‘Express Yourself’ is open to all primary school children in Northern Ireland who are in P6 & P7 pupils and aims to allow children to express their thoughts and feelings through the creative medium of poetry. Teaching throughout the pandemic has been challenging for the beauty queen and it has impacted the mental health of the primary school teacher. “I came across a challenge for AWARE in celebration of their 25th anniversary. I walked 5k every day for 25 days. Walking was an amazing way to clear my head after a busy day and reflect on the good things that happened.
“We’re all too focused on problems and issues which are sometimes minor but we let them stress us out and it plays on our mind all day. We should acknowledge the good things that happened during the day whilst also taking time to let things go.
“I commute 50 minutes to work every day and this is a really good time for me to process my thoughts alongside relaxing at the end of a busy day with a Pilates class”, commented Anna. She says the Miss NI contest challenged her self confidence, but says “if I can encourage at least one person to think about and talk about their mental health then it’s all been worthwhile”.
The top 10 Express Yourself poems will be turned into a professionally illustrated children’s book with mental health tips and advice from the team at AWARE. All participating schools will receive a copy for their library. Prizes for schools include mindfulness lessons for the winner’s class, hundreds of pounds worth of book vouchers, skateboarding lessons, Express Yourself hoodies and merchandise, and the chance to be published in a children’s book. Interested teachers should email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign their school up. Submissions for poem entries open on Children’s Mental Health Week (7th Feb) and will close on 25th Feb. Further info can be found at aware-ni.org/express-yourself