Mental health and wellbeing in Senior School and Sixth Form
As a Mary Ward school, support for all aspects of our student's development lies central to our core values.
Alongside our existing pastoral care, St Mary’s has been working to expand its support for the mental health and wellbeing of all students. Recognising the increased strain that the pandemic has placed on the school community, we have introduced a programme of wellbeing activities, events and resources aimed at developing student awareness of the need to protect their wellbeing, to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, and to encourage early and effective intervention. This focus, particularly on building student resilience, confidence and self-esteem, also supports our status as a High Performance Learning World Class school.
Underpinning this focus, many staff have trained in Mental Health First Aid, and the school has appointed two members of staff, Miss Katie Phillips and Dr Andrew Flint, as Mental Health Coordinators.
It is vital that students play a key role too, and our Wellbeing Committee - a group of students from Years 8 to 12 - meet twice a month to generate ideas and actions. Their actions are based on a wellbeing suggestion form, distributed across the school, which allows students to shape the wellbeing agenda. The Committee aims to empower students to further discuss and to promote their wellbeing.
The Committee has played a central role in supporting peers during events such as national awareness days and in redesigning the physical environment of the school. With generous support from the Circle of Friends, a new ‘wellbeing room’ will provide a dedicated space for mindful activities, particularly for students coping with anxiety, and for workshops on subjects such as friendship or coping with bereavement. The Committee has chosen the decoration, furnishings and lighting to create a positive and relaxing space.
National events such as Mental Health and Wellbeing Day (Oct 2021) and Children’s Mental Health Week (Feb 2022) were marked by the school. External speakers, including Natasha Devon (MBE), a former advisor to the Government on youth mental health, talked to students about the impact of social media on self-esteem, body image and healthy lifestyles. Sarah Birch of Mindkindness led a session incorporating mindful movement, sensory awareness and breathing for relaxation.
Animal therapy sessions, in which students spent relaxing time handling rabbits and learning to care for them, were extremely popular!
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was ‘loneliness’, so the Committee organised 'wellbeing kits’ for students to buy for friends and family to show care and gratitude to those closest to them or to brighten someone’s day.
Acknowledging the role nature plays in supporting wellbeing, students visited Cambridge University Botanical Garden. They also had the chance to take part in martial arts, yoga and Zumba classes to help remind them of the benefits of physical activity. Mindful activities such as felting, colouring and journal-making have all provided a chance for students to be calm and reflect, away from the academic demands of their busy school day. Students even had an opportunity to practise their cooking skills to create chocolate pizza!
The need to support student mental health and wellbeing has never been more pressing. It is fundamental to our values as a school community. By integrating support into the school curriculum, we aim to raise awareness of the need to talk, to de-stigmatise and to encourage students to share how they feel.
We hope to provide positive and proactive strategies that students can employ to protect their wellbeing now, in the next steps of their education, and ultimately into their adult lives.
Dr Andrew Flint, History and Politics Teacher / Global Lead Teacher for HPL in History
Article image: Amie B. Year 11
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