Actress Emma Thompson joins Highgate schoolgirls to launch mental health conference

Actress Emma Thompson chairs a one day conference at Highgate School. Pictured with student speakers

Actress Emma Thompson chairs a one day conference at Highgate School. Pictured with student speakers Amber van Dam and Sophia Parvizi-Wayne. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Two schoolgirls campaigning to get mental health awareness onto the national curriculum were joined by actress Emma Thompson as they opened a pioneering conference on the subject.

Highgate School pupils Sophia Parvizi-Wayne and Amber van Dam addressed an audience of 200 as they launched the school’s first conference on young people’s mental health on Saturday.

The Year 13 students, both 17, spoke of their experiences with anorexia and the need for greater understanding and education around such issues in schools.

West Hampstead’s Ms Thompson, who has often spoken about her struggles with depression, helped organise the event and acted as its chair.

The conference was titled “A beginner’s guide to self-esteem, sanity and the adolescent years” and featured talks, panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions with a host of experts, including TV psychologist Linda Papadopoulos.

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Ms Papadopoulos talked about encouraging resilience in children as a defence against anxiety and other forms of mental unease, citing studies that found that “grit” is a more reliable predictor of success than IQ.

Adam Pettitt, headteacher of the North Road school, said: “I hope this marks the start of a belt-and-braces approach to good mental health, and becomes as routine as health and safety or child protection in schools.”

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An online petition started by Sophia and Amber calling for compulsory mental health awareness sessions in schools has garnered more than 3,300 signatures.

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