As 13 year old Mel looked down at the self-inflicted scars on her wrist, which were now just starting to heal, she knew she’d turned a significant corner in her young life.
If it wasn’t for friends like you who believe children and young people matter, Mel’s story might have been very different. Instead, the scars of her past are fading and the future is looking brighter.
“Mel began to self-harm under the stress and struggle of her daily battles at home and at school. Because of her size, she was often both the bully and the bullied,” recalls Kepnock State High School chaplain John Coleman.
In just 13 years, Mel has been forced to grow up fast. Her mum, Sue Ellen, has been ‘doing it alone’ for as long as she can remember.
Losing both of her parents at a young age, and then having two daughters to raise, while battling with long-term mental health issues has been tough for Sue Ellen and her girls.
But Sue Ellen loves her children.
“Mel is really my life now after my eldest moved out. As a single mum, I’m so grateful to also have the support of the chappies, both with my eldest and now with Mel. They’re so patient and so willing to give of their time to help,” Sue Ellen says.
Kepnock State High school chaplain, John – or Chappy John as the family calls him – first met Mel early last year after she’d had some ‘behavioural issues’ at school.
“Mel struggled both within her home life and school life. Both of these were linked as she would act out at school.
“She was always aware of her mother’s personal mental health issues, but at such a young age she didn’t have the maturity to make sense of her mother’s actions and words.
“At school she would act out by bullying other students. She herself would be picked on at times. She would often yell at staff when confronted, leave the classroom without permission, and roam the school causing general trouble,” Chappy John recalls.
Patiently, John helped Mel better manage the myriad of emotions she was battling. He helped show her that her teachers did want the best for her.
Change was in the air.
“There were still times she’d get angry with a teacher and storm off. But she’d then come back and apologise.
“She’s also stepped into the role of carer for her mum as she came to understand her more, which has given her greater patience.
“Mel’s self-harming also subsided over time and I remember her proudly showing me the drying scars and the healed skin,” says Chappy John.
For Mel, having a chaplain in school has made a positive difference in her life.
“The support, encouragement and caring nature that John showed me when I needed it most, gave me the self-belief to work hard and open doors to achieve things I thought would be impossible,” she says.
Mel’s mum Sue Ellen agrees, saying she would not be without a chaplain at school.
“Personally, it’s a relief to know you have someone in the school for your child to go and talk to who will listen to them.
“For people who are against having chaplains in schools, I’d invite them to go and speak with a chaplain. See the work they’re doing in schools, the patience they have for kids.
“For the people who support the school chaplains I want to say thank you for what you’re doing.
“Thank you for the kindness you’ve shown to kids like Mel. I believe that something nice will happen to you for your kindness,” she says.
School chaplains would not be able to do all that they do without the kindness of friends like you.
You can be there for young Queenslanders in need of support like Mel. Make a positive difference today and visit suqld.org.au/donate.