Alumni Spotlights

Robin Barker
Posted 02/01/2019 08:00AM

Child psychologist believes We Can Talk

Children's mental health nurse Robin Barker is an expert in psychology and communicating within one of the UK's most racially diverse areas. He explains how his ISB experience helps him lead hospital training project We Can Talk.

Robin Barker is on the frontlines of a battle against life-threatening mental health issues among children and young people in one of the UK's most racially diverse areas, featuring vulnerable asylum seekers and many languages. He may not quite look the part, yet his international experience at ISB has helped make him a commando on this battlefield.

"I'm a blond-haired, blue-eyed white dude," he says, "but ISB gave me the confidence to engage with people from different backgrounds. Going for a job in the most diverse community in London [Newham], being able to say, 'I don't look very diverse, but I have a huge amount of experience overseas' has been very helpful."

Robin, who was at ISB from 1997 to 1999, is a senior mental health nurse who splits his time between working in community child and adolescent mental health services and running training for hospitals under his project We Can Talk. A lot of youngsters arrive at hospitals after suicide attempts or with serious mental issues, but staff there are not as equipped to help them as they are to treat physical injuries, according to Robin. While many young people in crisis report negative experiences in accident and emergency departments, non-specialist doctors and nurses are often frustrated with their lack of preparedness, Robin says, noting that this is a universal problem.

His time in Beijing made him comfortable working in different languages and through translators, and lent him empathy with people in a cultural melting pot, many of them recently arrived and facing the challenge of assimilating. More than that, Robin says being an international student is what got him interested in young people and psychology.

Moving around the world with his family, he had to adjust to different settings and form new relationships quickly. He was aware that his peers at ISB faced the same situation. This, Robin explains, got him thinking about how he could help with the process.

"I did a lot of theater at ISB, and from that point on I got into mentoring younger people. I ran a peer education group at university and did lots of volunteering. I moved back to the UK after university in America to do youth work. Gradually I came across more and more young people who had mental health problems."

Like a lot of ISB alumni, Robin had a self-starter, entrepreneurial spirit and "always kind of created my own jobs," securing government funding to run various youth-focused projects, many working alongside the health service. That eventually led him to retrain with a postgraduate course in mental health nursing.

Starting as a pilot scheme in just three hospitals, We Can Talk has now trained more than 600 people, and Robin is working with hospitals so their staff can run the training themselves.

He seems pleased with how mental health services and awareness of mental health issues are developing, including at ISB. The school is notable for its focus on wellness as well as academia, with counselors and a psychologist on staff, plus initiatives like Homework Free Weekends in High School.

Asked about how this compares to the provisions in place during his time at ISB, Robin quips that he managed to take a healthy number of Homework Free Weekends unsanctioned by teachers.

Whether or not this is an accurate reflection of his work ethic while at ISB, it's clear how his background as an international student has benefited him. Robin's company might not be called We Can Talk if the experience hadn't made him so comfortable empathizing and communicating.


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