In recognition of International Stress Awareness Week this week, Arbor’s HR Manager and Wellbeing Champion, Danielle, shares practical tips for how schools can support the mental health of students and staff this term. Danielle is a trained Emotional Literacy Support Assistant and Drama Therapist who has delivered interventions and 1-to-1 mentoring in schools around emotional communication.
We’ll all have noticed that the return to full time schooling and the ongoing pandemic has been challenging on lots of different levels for both students and staff. The last six months has been about everyone adapting to new ways of living, learning and teaching.
Whilst coming back in the new term is a welcome chance to reconnect with classmates/colleagues, others might be finding everything that’s going on really difficult to process and could even be dealing with the trauma of loss.
Impact on mental health
With 80% of young people with existing mental health needs say that the Covid-19 pandemic has made their mental health worse, (according to a Young Minds survey of 2,036 young people), it’s time to put mental health awareness first in schools.
And it’s not just students who have been feeling the impact; according to a report by Education Support, 52% of UK Teachers say their mental health declined during the first stage of the coronavirus pandemic.
As we head into the winter months, and some parts of the UK lock down once again, it’s more important than ever that we help students and fellow colleagues feel safe and supported in the school community.
Create a culture of wellbeing
In this blog, you’ll find some practical suggestions for how your school can open up spaces to talk about mental health and wellbeing and support those who need it the most.
First of all, I wanted to share a mantra. If a student is being particularly challenging during this time, or a colleague is grumpier than usual, it’s always worth remembering: “Same storm, different boats”
Whilst we are all going through this tough time together, each of us has a different set of circumstances, levels of support and starting points when facing the virus. For more on how inequality has been highlighted during the pandemic, see this article.
Actions schools can take to create a culture of wellbeing
- Monthly staff wellbeing workshops – This could be in the form of skill-share workshops for approx. 6 people, e.g. cooking classes or meditation. Whilst school staff have limited time, making the effort to connect in this way and learn something new will boost your mood
- Designated mental health champions – See Mind for guidance on how to set this up in your school. If staff are nervous about committing, why not have this change on a termly basis?
- Mental health training for staff – Place2b and MHFA England both offer excellent courses aimed specifically at school staff. This equips staff to deal with Mental Health First Aid and signpost young people to the appropriate places
- A wellbeing notice board – This could include a wellbeing “menu” of events and activities, who you’re wellbeing ambassadors are, and how to sign up for training
- Staff Stars – Consider how you show gratitude for each other. Consider handing out a Staff Star award in your weekly staff meeting, then the winner gets to nominate the next person and explain why
- Tutor group check-ins – If possible, create some time in tutor groups for circle time, with each student sharing either a word or a sentence about how they are that day. Having this daily “safe space” will help young people to feel safe and secure
- Creative spaces to reflect on the pandemic – Find creative ways to allow students to reflect through Drama, English or Art. Having a creative outlet for their fears and questions will allow them to focus in other areas and process difficult feelings
- Visuals around the school to promote mental health and wellbeing, like this one from the Anna Freud Centre
- Workshops and wellbeing consultants – Try delivering termly workshops with a focus on mental health and wellbeing. Consider developing partnerships with specialist charities like Young Minds
- Gratitude Jar – Gratitude practices are proven to boost our moods. All you need is an empty jar, strips of paper, and pens. As part of your tutor morning routine, have students write down something specific that they’re grateful for on a strip of paper and put it in the jar. Towards the end of the week, ask students to come up and read out items from the jar!
For more ideas and resources check out the following websites: