From crippling anxiety to thriving at school: Isaac’s Story

 

Isaac* started being severely bullied at school at the age of 10 years old, and this continued well into high school. He doesn’t know why the other children targeted him, especially because he always tried to be approachable and friendly with his classmates. 
 
As a result of the constant bullying, Isaac’s mental health suffered: he found it difficult to concentrate in class and his anxiety started sky rocketing because he never knew what he was going to face at school each day. 
 
Isaac felt his high school didn’t fully understand the severity of his anxiety, and how these difficulties impacted on his every day learning and wellbeing.
 
Living in a regional Victorian town and not having any friends – in or out of school - meant that Isaac was also quite lonely. His parents had separated when he was a baby and his mum, Gabrielle*, raised him. They had no family members nearby and slowly became socially isolated from the local community. 
 
So when Isaac was referred to the Navigator Program last year at 15 years old, he wasn’t in a good place: he had disengaged from school, was experiencing regular panic attacks and felt completely defeated. 

Having the right tools and skills available helped Isaac thrive

The Navigator Program supports young people aged 12-17 years to re-engage with education and actively works with them to return to school. The program is funded by the Victorian Government, with Berry Street currently running the program in two regions of Victoria.  
 
Isaac’s Navigator Case Manager, Andrew, spent time getting to know him and developed an individual, holistic plan that would equip him with the skills and confidence to go back to school. The plan included counselling sessions with a psychologist and a light exercise routine that he was encouraged to follow. He also worked with Andrew to develop realistic short- and long-term goals. 
 
“Before starting this program and getting help from Berry Street, I was feeling hopeless…  I was so behind at school that I didn’t see the point in attending and the rest of my life was a mess,” Isaac explains.  
“But when the staff show so much confidence in you, you start believing in yourself again.” 
 
Isaac fully committed to his plan as he was determined to go back to school. His overall wellbeing improved quickly: the skills he learnt through counselling sessions helped reduce the number of panic attacks he was having and his confidence increased dramatically. 

Isaac returned to school with a smile

When Isaac was ready, he started at a new public school part-time while gradually working up to full-time attendance. He had plenty of support around him, including regular contact with his Case Manager.  
 
The program staff also worked with the school and teachers to help support Isaac. For example, he was given a stress card to show teachers if he was feeling stressed or anxious and would like to leave class to sit in a quiet room. 

Dreams of telling stories of strength and resilience 

For almost six months, Isaac has been attending his new school five days a week. He is thriving in this new environment and has achieved high marks in all of his classes. He has also received several academic awards in English, art and history!   
 
“If someone told me 12 months ago that I’d be back at school five days a week and had made heaps of new friends, I definitely wouldn’t have believed them! I am so happy to be learning again,” Isaac explained.   
 
Now, rather than dreading his VCE, Isaac is looking forward to the challenge and is excited about continuing into tertiary education. He has developed a passion for videography and wants to share stories about other young people’s challenging experiences at school. 
 
“I’d like other young people to know that they’re not alone. I want to show others that there are people and resources available to help if you’re struggling, and to give others hope.”

 

 
The Navigator Program is funded by the Victorian Government and it was announced in 2018 that it will be expanded and rolled out across the state over the next three years. Berry Street currently runs the program in our Hume and Western regions and will also begin delivering it in Gippsland as part of the roll out. Almost 160 young people have returned to school since 20161
 
This is just one of the programs that Berry Street runs to help children and young people to learn.

 

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*Name has been changed in the interest of privacy. The models and volunteers pictured are not connected to the case study.

1. Berry Street Annual Report 2018, p.44