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St Mary’s School places students’ wellbeing at the centre of a range of initiatives to boost mental health

St Mary’s School places students’ wellbeing at the centre of a range of initiatives to boost mental health

Building on the school’s existing strong pastoral support, St Mary’s has expanded the range of mental health and wellbeing activities and groups on offer, led by Mental Health and Wellbeing Co-coordinators, Dr Flint and Miss Phillips. We developed these initiatives in recognition of the strain that the pandemic has placed on mental health. In response to a survey conducted by Mind, nearly thirty percent of adults and thirty-four percent of young people said that their mental health had worsened during the pandemic. Our programme of wellbeing activities aims to develop students’ awareness of the need to protect their wellbeing, to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, and to encourage early and effective intervention. The focus on wellbeing, particularly in building student resilience, confidence and self-esteem supports our status as an HPL World Class school.

One way that we aim to achieve this is through the school’s Wellbeing Committee -- a group of students from Years 8 to 12 who meet twice a month to generate ideas and actions to improve wellbeing. They base their actions on a wellbeing suggestion form that is distributed across the school, allowing students to shape the wellbeing agenda at school to best suit their needs. This group aims to  empower students to further discuss and promote their wellbeing.

To raise awareness and destigmatise mental health, we have been celebrating national days and creating our own internal events dedicated to wellbeing, starting with Mental Health and Wellbeing Day on 10 October 2021. The Senior School took a day off timetable to be fully immersed in a day of activities specifically designed to support mental health. First, students participated in a whole school mindfulness activity, a talk from Natasha Devon (MBE), former advisor to the Government on youth mental health. Natasha delivered two talks: one on social media, technology and self-esteem to the younger students, and one on body image, health and weight to the older students. Then students chose from a range of wellbeing activities to participate in for the rest of the morning including mindfulness drawing at the Botanical Gardens, crafts, cooking, meditation through music, Zumba, yoga, as well as games.

During Children’s Mental Health Week in February 2021, the students participated in a similar schedule of trips to the botanical gardens, craft workshops, colouring, puzzles and exercise. The calming activities on offer for students included Zumba classes, self-defence classes, journaling, colouring, creative writing workshops and puzzle activities. Sarah Birch lead a 'Mindkindness' session that incorporated mindful movement, sensory awareness, breathing for relaxation and meditation, and there was even an animal therapy session, in which students spent some relaxing time handling rabbits and learning about how to care for them. The Junior School also participated in a range of wellbeing activities designed to offer a balance of different approaches – spanning the creative, fun, informative and active. Activities on offer included yoga, breathing technique classes, mindfulness colouring and observing nature in their beautiful school grounds.

 In recognition of the role that educators can play in supporting good mental health, we are expanding the wellbeing programme even further. The school is creating a dedicated wellbeing room, which will feature timetabled activities organised by the nurses, counsellors and chaplain. As the room’s uses and design will develop over time, with input from the Wellbeing Committee.

We are also expanding the range of resources available to students, staff and parents. As a first step, we have recently launched a new Wellbeing Page, which can be accessed by students in Year 8 upwards via our SharePoint. This page, which hosts many links and further information, including who you can talk to at school, a panic attack guide, advice and emergency numbers, and a suggestion form, will soon be available to all Senior School students. As the year goes on, we will be looking to expand this provision, with a view to offering online and in-person courses by the Charlie Waller Trust. We will also be expanding the focus of our Thursday tutor time sessions to cover mental health topics, from coping with change or academic pressure to the importance of self-care.

Our staff and parents will be able to help support this programme outside of the classroom by reading up on student mental health on our parent portal wellbeing page, which will be made available in the coming weeks, and on the Charlie Waller Trust website. Together, these activities aim to make St Mary’s an even more inclusive and supportive environment.

Find out more about wellbeing at St Mary's here.