Paula's Story

“School days should be the best days of your life, but they are full of ups and downs – and that’s completely normal. The key to helping children thrive in school? Learning that everyone needs help at times, and that it’s ok to ask for it; and most importantly knowing, who and how to ask for help when you need it. ”

I spent my school days in the east coast of Ireland, growing up by the sea. It sounds idyllic and in many ways it was, but as with all childhoods, there were challenges to be faced and lessons to be learned.

I was always curious and questioning as a child and perhaps a little ahead of my time at school which didn’t always go down well with the teachers! I once raised a debate in class about why the girls had to sit in and knit while the boys played football? I was a county and Leinster athletics champion and couldn’t see the point of knitting! The teacher responded by telling me that I was difficult and would never amount to anything!

When I moved to my secondary school I struggled with learning three languages one of which was my beautiful native Gaelic tongue. I had to try extremely hard at school but it paid off and despite my language difficulties I was a high achiever. However, just when everything is going well with the teachers, you are achieving high results, you win some awards and you get selected for the lead in the school musical, you would think things couldn’t be better right? Wrong! – now your peers don’t like you. You’ve attracted too much positive attention and then the bullying starts!

But for me this didn’t last for long because I knew who and how to ask for help.

With a mother who was a nurse, a sister a trainee psychologist and an understanding deputy head, I was able to navigate this difficult time with the support of those around me. I knew who and how to ask for help. The support I had helped me to look after my mental health, to be able to ride my ups and downs, to manage and to bounce back.

When I left school, I undertook some voluntary work in my local hospital. I had no medical knowledge or skill so I did what I could – I listened and I talked, three patients and their conversations with me was all it took for me to make a complete career U-turn from food technology to nursing. I think it was then that I knew what I was born to do. I was born to help and support people, to be someone people could talk to and seek support from. I wanted people to have what I had when I needed it.

I went on to complete two diplomas,’ one in adult nursing and the other in paediatric nursing both with distinctions. I then went on to work in paediatrics and completed an MSc at London City university in nursing science, with distinction in my dissertation on ‘healthcare professional’s attitudes towards adolescents who self-harmed’. I chose this study as I was frustrated and saddened by the attitudes I experienced on general wards and in A&E departments towards adolescents who self-harmed.

Throughout my extensive nursing career I have been fascinated by the connections between our physical, mental and social health and the impact they can have on our wellbeing and I have been saddened by the stigma that surrounds mental health which is why I trained as a mindfulness teacher for schools and a mental health first aider.

When I worked in adult mental health I used to take my clients to the coffee shop at the main hospital for some fresh air, a chat and a cup of coffee but the stigma that followed us there and back was always plain to see. When you are medical professional who has experienced:

  • a child who is dying and they and their parents know they are dying but both avoid talking about death for fear it will upset the other
  • an adolescent who can’t stop burning themselves because they didn’t know who and how to ask for help
  • a child who feels they are different but are too afraid to speak about it because of the shame it would bring to their family
  • a child who suffers so badly with anxiety they stand frozen unable to talk about their feelings for fear it will change their future and make them a lesser person
  • a child that can’t eat and fears seeking support because that would be a sign of weakness
  • a child who takes their own life

This is when you understand stigma. When you see it and feel its effects, you know you must use your skill, your knowledge and your experiences to take a stand and make a difference.

I have a gorgeous daughter of my own. When she was born she was diagnosed with a heart condition and required lifesaving emergency surgery, that was when I needed more resilience than ever before. When you find yourself on the other side not as the medical professional but as the mother you must build a new set of tools again, you must know who and how to ask for help and not be afraid to do it!

My journey has led me to become a school nurse, school inspector, school director of Health and welfare, safeguarding officer, mother and now entrepreneur, founder and author.

I first started my work on iSpace Wellbeing 4 years ago when I was on a train returning from yet another mental health course which said the same things about mental health, and yet again offered no solutions. I wanted to create a solution which allows the next generation of children and parents to live life well.

I am a passionate advocate for removing the stigma surrounding mental wellbeing, whilst teaching children the life skills to navigate the ups and downs of life; and knowing who and how to ask for help.

We need to support children with their mental, physical and social development as they journey through life and this is why I created iSpace Wellbeing, the mental health and wellbeing curriculum and supporting learning tools. To remove the stigma surrounding mental health and to arm families with the tools they need to live life well.

The iSpace Wellbeing and #iWonder curriculums offer an exciting whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing. Our curriculums provide an age appropriate framework including who and how to ask for help, and a common language, which encourage conversations about mental, emotional, social and physical health to become part of everyday school and home life.

The curriculums provide a proactive, progressive and preventative approach to mental health and wellbeing; supporting schools in achieving the Government’s new for 2020 Mental Health, Relationships and Sex Education requirements.

I’m proud to say that iSpace Wellbeing is a holistic approach to wellbeing education. It ensures mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing are addressed in a curriculum schools can embrace with complete confidence as part of PSHE.

My mission is to improve and protect the mental and emotional wellbeing of over 1,000,000 children by 2025, and I hope you’ll join and support me on this journey to help children and families to live life well.

Paula Talman

Founder | iSpace Wellbeing