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Helping Hooriya put her mental health first

Photo: Hooriya’s story: how being left out at school affected her mental health

Hooriya (15) struggled with feeling down, stressed and anxious after being left out at school. But after taking positive action to improve things, now she’s ready to take on her GCSEs.

Hooriya and mum Bobby are on one of their regular long walks putting the world to rights arm in arm. They’ve come a long way since Hooriya started suffering from stress and anxiety at just eight years old and now both feel confident they can work through any worries together.

Hooriya was diagnosed as profoundly deaf at 14 months and had a cochlear implant fitted at two years old. “It was a big shock when she was diagnosed,” Bobby says. “I threw myself into learning everything I could.”

Hooriya has always been shy and finds the social side of mainstream school challenging, particularly when she’s in noisy environments. “The school canteen is one of the big problems because it’s really noisy,” Hooriya says. “I eat my food and go, I don’t talk to anyone.”

At eight years old Bobby noticed this was starting to have a real effect on her daughter. “She was really tearful,” Bobby says. “Initially we put it down to hormones but all of a sudden she would be upset because she didn’t want to go to school.”

At the time they discovered the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). “I looked into alternative therapies and took her to a hypnotherapist to help her anxiety,” Bobby explains. “What a stupid decision! You have to close your eyes and Hooriya said, ‘No I’m not closing my eyes, then I can’t see or hear.’

“But the hypnotherapist recommended EFT, it sounded quite strange but we were desperate. You tap energy points on your body and say a positive phrase. We did one session to learn how to do it and then did the tapping whenever she was anxious.”

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Hooriya adds. “But I found it really useful. I used to go into the school toilets at lunchtime and do it.”

The pair also learnt and used breathing techniques. “If she got stressed, we did special breathing to help her relax,” Bobby says. “We still do it now. We were at a wedding last weekend and she was nervous because there were so many people so I said, ‘Just concentrate on your breathing.’”

Though these techniques helped, things got worse after Hooriya moved to secondary school. “She came out with a rash and initially we thought it was an infection but it didn’t go away,” Bobby explains. “We used antihistamines, applied lotions and potions, were referred for food intolerance tests but a skin specialist diagnosed eczema and decided it was stress-related. It was a cycle because stress would cause her to scratch, then the rash would get worse and she’d struggle to sleep because she was scratching all night. It was awful.

“Hooriya became very self-conscious that the girls at school in the changing rooms would look. The specialist said he would look after the skin but he told us to go back to the GP and see if we could get a mental health referral.”

Unfortunately the area they lived in didn’t offer NHS talking therapy for children. “I thought about going private but, as a single mum, it was difficult to budget for this,” Bobby explains.

The GP said that a school counsellor could refer her to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) so Bobby and Hooriya investigated with her school and put her name on the waiting list.

In the meantime Bobby became anxious and stressed so she referred herself for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) on the NHS. “The lady was brilliant and gave me tips which I shared with Hooriya when I came home.”

Eventually Hooriya saw her school counsellor. “It was a bit weird at first,” she says. “But it was quite helpful. We made the connection that a lot of my stress and worries are deaf-related. It’s worrying about talking to people and feeling left out.”

Since seeing the counsellor, Hooriya has come up with a number of new strategies to help improve her mental health. She keeps a worry diary, goes for long walks and has found new hobbies.

“We schedule in time for worrying,” Bobby says. “Hooriya will text me and I’ll say, ‘We’ll talk about this at 8pm tonight.’ Then she’ll write it down in the diary and we don’t worry about it for now. Often what seemed massive then feels a little bit smaller later on.

“Two or three times a week we go for a walk and she chats nonstop! As she’s got older, she’s also found walking on her own helps her to relax and she now walks back from school when I work late.”

Hooriya has started new afterschool clubs, including playing the viola in a strings orchestral group and joining a cricket team. “It’s nice because you belong somewhere and you know different people,” she says. “It gives me something I can talk about in school with friends.”

Now Hooriya is studying for her GCSEs and both her and Bobby hope all the techniques she has put in place will allow her to remain calm throughout a stressful time. “It’s going to be a lot of work,” Hooriya says.

“Everyone is talking about GCSEs and it’s scary. With all the strategies in place though, I do feel more confident and positive.”

“As a mum I’m still worried that she’s worried,” Bobby adds. “But it’s nice to have these tools. It’s just about recognising when we’re both getting stressed and realising we need to go for a walk, keep an eye on it, keep things stress free.”