We need to talk about Mental Health

Dave McPartlan

It needs to be okay to talk about mental health.  A logo or catchy slogan does not change the culture around mental health within that community. I knew we needed to create for students a safe space for conversations to happen and unless staff and their own mental health were included in the work we did we were not going to have any impact on the culture of our institution.

I was clear from the start that we also had to be able to monitor impact. But how do you measure success in an area as complex as Mental Health?  Early on, EduKit Insight, an Online Wellbeing Survey (…and oh so much more!) was recommended to us for the students; for staff we chose to use the Warwick Edinburgh survey.

Looking into what EduKit offered not only steered me towards the development of the priorities for our strategy but it also focused my thinking that the key to all of this work was conversations. To talk and listen to all of our stakeholders:  students, staff, governors, parents and outside agencies.

I was a little apprehensive before embarking on the audit and feared we could be opening a Pandora’s box of issues. Our head teacher, newly appointed to his role, was incredibly supportive of developing a strategic mental health agenda for both students and staff that was coherent, understood and had impact.

The audit findings shared some positive findings, but suggested not all of our actions were really known about across all stakeholders. The findings were used to develop a strategic action plan based on our five priority areas. We also engaged a member of the governing body which has proved to be a key strategic move.  The school now has a mental health governor who has completed mental health governor training and their enthusiasm has led to the setting up of a sub-group with governing.

If you want to create a culture where talking about mental health is okay, staff need to be trained to deal with the conversations. We now have over 20 MHFA (mental health first aid) trained staff and a cohort of another 19 who embarked on a L2 Mental Health course in September; of those to finish to date, many want to progress to L3.

After 8 months where have we got to?  We have a range of mental health initiatives happening: twenty sixth form mental health mentors  run a weekly club for younger students who are struggling, offering them a place to meet and talk; half termly assemblies for all students have a mental health theme and we ensure when revision is happening prior to exams PD lessons have a focus on strategies and tips to support mental health (mindful breathing is proving especially popular!).

We are already seeing the benefits from developing a culture where mental health is talked about more openly.  I believe we are educating staff and students about mental health and how all share a responsibility, not only for themselves, but also in looking out for and supporting others. I know from conversations that I have in school that staff are beginning to share mental health concerns more openly. I would like to think that we are more proactive and understanding of improving staff and student wellbeing.

It’s now essential that we keep on talking!

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