Protecting the Brand

school brand“A silent epidemic of anorexia is sweeping through the country’s top independent schools, affecting thousands of teenage girls, experts say.

Girls from aspirational families are the “fastest-growing” group using mental health services as they struggle to cope with the pressure to achieve top grades, according to psychologists. Mental health charities say that many of the top private schools are in denial about the scale of the problem because they do not want to damage their brands”.

The Times, 22 Feb 2014.

I was once asked to speak on eating disorders at a top independent school, (not in Eastbourne). Shortly before the event, the school cancelled because they were worried it might create more problems than it would solve.

On some levels, I get it. It’s an issue that needs to be handled with great sensitivity; and copycatting can be a danger.  Discussing some issues can be triggering: suicide rates for example, often increase when they’re spotlighted in the media. And girl’s schools are like prisons – you learn a lot more tricks inside, than you do out.

But –  on the other hand, how is it being addressed? If there’s already an epidemic, then driving it further underground is a recipe for disaster.

The article argues that independent schools are run as businesses and, rather than address the issues, they are tempted to protect their brand and keep quiet about the problems. But, it’s just not possible to hide these problems for very long. As Roger Catchpole from Young Minds argues, (with reference to self-harm):

“A particular girls school in London is now known as a hotbed for self-harm so a lot of parents are sending their daughters to the state school down the road.”

Even when the goal is brand maintenance, keeping things under wraps just isn’t working.

And here’s the irony of “brand maintenance.” I’m sure most schools are not like this, but if some are keeping mental health issues under wraps for the sake of their appearance, doesn’t that sound eerily like the troubled students they are producing? 

Disguising your struggles under a perfect veneer is a neat definition of both ‘brand maintenance’ and a feature of many eating disorders. Far from tarnishing the brand, the girls who starve or cut may in fact be products of it.

3 thoughts on “Protecting the Brand

  1. I think you are right Emma. If mental illnesses and eating disorders and self harm is not mentioned it seems to be sort of “forbidden” to talk about it and those who are actually struggling are scared to “out” themnselves. Of course you have to be careful not to put the idea of for example self harm into their minds, but explaining what mental health is might stop it before it starts for many!

  2. Yes I agree there is an epidemic. I have never known a time when I am aware of so many young women and some young men suffering from the disease. What are we doing to this generation I wonder?

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