Mental health: Make Talk Your Goal

Written by: Phil Denton | Published:

In a three-part series, Phil Denton considers the merits of a number of initiatives set-up to improve the mental health of our young people. In part two, he introduces the school-led Make Talk Your Goal programme


The Make Talk Your Goal programme involves leading speakers from the world of sport and the arts who help to promote conversations among our nation’s boys and young men.

Suicide accounts for 27.1 per cent of deaths for men aged 20 to 34 according to the Office for National Statistics. As such, our programme mainly targets boys, although we know that mental health problems are on the rise for all young people.

So, what do we do about this in our schools and is there something we can do beyond 16 or even 18 to improve the mental health of young men in our society?

Make Talk Your Goal is headed up by Chris Kirkland, former England and Liverpool goalkeeper. Chris is a prominent campaigner for mental health awareness having battled with his personal wellbeing for many years. This battle has been the feature of a BBC documentary, social media postings, and national media.

Chris teamed up with Jacinta Brown, the chaplain at St Bede’s Catholic High School in Lancashire, where I am headteacher, to put together a unique programme.

It came about after Jacinta noticed that boys were increasingly coming to her as they reached crisis point. They were seeking pastoral support too, but only once they had reached a point where they were desperate.

Jacinta wanted to find a way to get boys talking about these issues before they reached these points of despair. As such, she invited Chris in to speak with a group of boys. The idea was that these lads would then act as ambassadors for an initiative to “get boys talking”.

During the first group session, Chris talked about his own battle and opened up in a way that resonated with the boys. His persona and life as an ex-footballer gave a confidence to the other boys to share their own experiences with mental health and wellbeing.

Every single boy in the opening group discussion was open and honest about challenges they had faced and which they had often not spoken about before to any member of staff at the school.

Jancinta and Chris realised that if this selected group of boys were opening up in this way then there must be countless other students facing battles in silence. They agreed that this had to change, not just in one high school but across many schools.



Mental Health Initiatives: The three articles in this series can be found via the following links:



A game plan

Backed by St Bede’s, Jacinta and Chris developed a programme to implement across the school. The premise was simple – get boys talking through movement and engagement in a number of activities. Interest for the programme has grown and now a film company, Running Films, has covered the implementation of the programme and we plan to share the project across multiple platforms.


Step 1: Walk and talk

The programme begins with a discussion involving the entire group. As before, Chris kicked things off and invited a Q&A. He then posed some open questions to the group which allowed him to assess the mental health of the collective (and of some individuals). Once again, this group was selected as ambassadors, but their feedback was incredible in its honesty.

From this opening discussion, the boys set out on a nature walk for several hours with well-timed breaks. During the breaks, there was opportunity for snacks and chat. It is this last element which saw the boys build upon their opening discussion.

The boys are taken from a range of year groups. Despite this, the camaraderie they developed was wonderful to see. Chris spoke about his pride in seeing year 10 boys comforting younger boys, whether it be in relation to things discussed during the group chat or simply helping them on the walk.


Step 2: Talking a good game

After the talk and walk, the boys enjoyed a football training session. There was a real mixture of abilities which was deliberate. The session was led by Colne FC manager and Port Vale youth coach, Nathan Rooney. Nathan is positive and passionate. He talked to the boys about being part of a team and fuelling your mental health with positive relationships with your peers.

The team need not be a sporting team, but it can be a team of friends that you surround yourself with to offer support and positive relationships. The session allows those supportive friendships to flourish.


Step 3: Picture perfect?

A picture can tell a thousand words, as they say. The programme utilises art therapy, delivered by St Bede’s art teacher and qualified art therapist Helen Byrom. In a nutshell, the boys are encouraged, over a six-week process, to draw their own story and then talk about this either individually or in groups. This culminates in the drawing of masks that can replicate the facades we can sometimes hide behind during times of mental health challenge. This is part of the programme which takes the individual needs of the boys and starts to explore them in a bespoke therapeutic way.

Added to the art therapy is an innovative form of percussion therapy delivered by Orpheus Mind Technologies. Therapist and founder, Peter Owen, has designed an app which can be used by the boys during sessions or at home to help tackle negative belief mindsets.


Step 4: The final whistle

The programme ends with another inspirational speaker. For example, the first group listened to Jamie Acton, a former rugby league star who had his career cut short by injury. His body-builder physique coupled with his story of emotional vulnerability is inspiring and engaging. Once again, the boys saw a male role model who was confident talking about mental health...


Post-match and the rest of the season

Once the programme is complete, we continue to support the boys through regular meetings, breakfast clubs and on-going activities to encourage talking. The first group of participants will also act as role models for their peers and talk about their experiences to the next group of boys to get involved.

From here, St Bede’s and Chris Kirkland hope to be able to work with schools across the country to help them deliver this programme and create a positive movement around talking. We want to create change that is lasting for the young men of our country.

  • Phil Denton is headteacher of St Bede’s Catholic High School in Lancashire. Read his previous articles for SecEd at http://bit.ly/seced-denton


Further information & resources

For more information about St Bede High School’s Make Talk Your Goal programme, email Phil Denton via admin@sbchs.co.uk


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