Leeds mum's mission to make sure the kids are alright when it comes to mental health

A Mini Mermaids and Young Tritons event at St Matthew's Primary School in Chapel Allerton.
A Mini Mermaids and Young Tritons event at St Matthew's Primary School in Chapel Allerton.
Have your say

For Leeds mum Hannah Corne, looking after children's mental health is more than just a job – it's a very personal labour of love.

Hannah, from Moortown, is the driving force behind the UK arm of Mini Mermaids, a scheme that works to help young girls improve their physical and mental well-being.

Hannah Corne at the St Matthew's Primary event.

Hannah Corne at the St Matthew's Primary event.

She was inspired to bring it to this country from its original home in the United States after her daughter, Flo, was diagnosed with selective mutism, a condition that makes it hard for her to speak to adults and other children.

Hannah noticed that when Flo was outside and being active, her anxiety levels decreased and, while doing follow-up research, she discovered an American initiative called Mini Mermaids.

It runs courses that teach girls about the value of exercise and the part it can play in building their self-esteem, resilience and confidence.

Hannah's Mini Mermaids story saw her starting out as a lone coach operating from Moor Allerton Hall Primary School in 2015.

Hannah's daughter, Flo.

Hannah's daughter, Flo.

Four years on, the community interest company she founded is going from strength to strength, organising six-week programmes for hundreds of youngsters in cities including London, Sheffield, Derby and Cardiff as well as Leeds.

And, speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post as part of our coverage of 2019's Mental Health Awareness Week, Hannah told today how her own experiences – both as a child and later as a mum – continue to shape her work.

She said: "When I was nine, someone told me that I was ‘big boned’. It was a throwaway comment that probably didn’t mean anything to the person that had said it.

"However, that cemented the spiralling hatred that I had with my body and my sense of self worth.

"That was 30 years ago. Could I have had a different, better relationship with myself if, when I was young, someone had helped me process and understand that statement, and why it affected me so much?

"Depression and anxiety are often talked about as the main mental health issues in children today.

"We also know that our childhood and its experiences can create powerful and lasting marks, both positive and negative.

"We must be willing to embrace and give children the space to talk about and share these experiences without fear of shame or judgment, to help them understand and address what they’re experiencing, and provide the resources to help them manage whatever mental health challenges they face now and in the future."

Each Mini Mermaids course ends with the girls tackling a 5km run, putting into practice what they have learnt about concentrating on potential and possibility rather than fear.

A sister scheme, Young Tritons, uses a similar approach to provide boys with an insight into the importance of sharing their feelings and working as a team.

Both programmes also encourage participants to have "open, preventative and proactive" conversations about mental and emotional health.

"We need to treat moments and events that shape our mental well-being with the same attention and kindness that we treat physical health," said Hannah.

"If a child came to us with a cut or a cold, we wouldn’t dismiss or ignore it.

"Mental health is a critical part of a child's overall well-being and we need to treat it as such.

"We have the opportunity to engage with young children and create a destigmatised mental health approach that’s open, preventative and proactive.

"This only happens when children are aware and can talk about their own mental health issues without fear of judgment.

"Expressing how we feel about ourselves, showing our vulnerability and addressing what is going on in our lives from an early age, as well as encouraging our children to be active, will help to break down the stigma of mental health.

"We do that by ensuring that mental health issues are as easy to talk about as other physical aches and pains."

She added: "We weave physical activity into all of our lessons so girls start to feel first hand the connection between moving and overall well-being.

"One of our Mini Mermaids told us, 'I love running but I got other things out of it, too – I feel so much more confident in myself'."

Hannah also paid tribute to the "fantastic support" that Mini Mermaids and Young Tritons have received from the Jane Tomlinson Appeal.

Together they are one of the four main projects now backed by the appeal, which aims to build on the charity legacy of the late Leeds mum and cancer heroine Jane Tomlinson.

For further information about Mini Mermaids, visit the www.minimermaiduk.com website.