Three ways your school can promote good mental health

Lesley Franklin, principal of George Heriot’s School, details the school’s wellbeing programmes and explains why schools must help pupils overcome mental health issues

Increasingly, we are hearing of new challenges and stresses facing young people, and the impact this is having on their wellbeing. It has been reported by the Mental Health Foundation that 10% of young people (aged 5–16-years-old) now have a diagnosable mental illness, yet over 70% fail to receive appropriate treatment or support.

At school, the increased competition for top university places and demanding workloads to achieve desired grades can make exam season especially daunting. Outside of the classroom, there is constant exposure to social media platforms where images from ‘influencers’ or peers can give skewed impressions of others’ lives, contributing to feelings of inadequacy and alienation.

Faced with these pressures, it is unsurprising that mental health problems have increased among young people.

Given the amount of time young people spend at school, it is crucial that schools play a role in helping our pupils to overcome these struggles. Although diagnosis of mental health issues should only ever be the remit of health professionals, there are things that we as educators can – and should – do to recognise and promote wellbeing amongst our students.

Training for teachers

Teachers can be helped to spot warning signs that may indicate a student going through a crisis. Sudden changes in disposition, withdrawal or lack of engagement can all signify a wellbeing concern. By working with the young people and their parents we can intervene early on.

Open discussion

We can also speak openly about these issues at assembly and in the classroom. By promoting an open discussion, we demonstrate to our students that these topics are not taboo, that mental health problems are common and, importantly, that there are things that can be done to manage them.

Our unofficial motto of ‘work hard, be kind, be happy’ helps to focus the students on not only being kind to one another, but to themselves too

Support for pupils

Another way that we can support our young people is by equipping them with the tools to build resilience. We can provide them with access to coping strategies, resources, advice – whether that be through enlisting the services of a counsellor, providing them with access to learning materials or simply listening to their needs and suggestions.

At George Heriot’s School, we have seen these methods working in practice. Our unofficial motto of ‘work hard, be kind, be happy’ helps to focus the students on not only being kind to one another, but to themselves too.

From an early age, we introduce programmes focused on wellbeing and resilience. These include practices of yoga, mindfulness, team-building and philosophy.

At senior level, we have introduced pupil-led initiatives to promote self-care and emotional health, such as our ‘Head Gardeners’ programme and ‘Love your Mind’. We also run support groups to help students manage stress and to cope with loss and bereavement.

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The systems and interventions we have in place are designed to provide appropriate and targeted support to students experiencing problems. By framing the conversation to be about the significance of wellbeing to its own end, rather than after a problem has already occurred, we firmly believe this has a positive impact on our students while in the school and throughout their learning career.

My hope for the future is that we can continue to make mental health a priority and continue to arm our students with the resilience they need in order to go out there and live fulfilling and happy lives.

I truly believe that building the foundations of emotional and physical health in our pupils is one of, if not, the most important thing that schools can do to support our young people. Hard work is vital, but it will not be effective without stable foundations.

Lesley Franklin
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