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Mrs Cook’s Blog
Good mental health is fundamental to thriving in life. It is the essence of who we are and how we experience the world.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week.
It’s a topic that, thankfully, is now being talked about openly in many forums when previously it may have been something of a taboo subject. Conversations are taking place in the sports world, amongst politicians and celebrities, in the work place and, of course, in education.
The GDST has put mental health and wellbeing firmly at the forefront of their agenda in recent years, recognising that academic achievement takes place most effectively within the broader development of the whole person – social, cultural, spiritual and physical as well as intellectual.
One of the most notable changes in collective attitudes towards mental health has been the willingness of those who have suffered, to step up and talk about their experiences, in order to help destigmatise and dispel many associated myths. This level of engagement has indeed reached the heights with the Dukes and Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex, spearheading awareness through Heads Together, their mental health initiative which seeks to shine a light – but more importantly to fundraise – for a series of innovative new mental health services.
At the beginning of this week, William, Kate, Harry and Meghan (excuse the informality!) launched Shout, an affiliate of Crisis Text Line in the UK that will offer free, confidential mental health support via text.
The free, anonymous service connects people experiencing a “tough moment” with trained volunteers and is hoping to have some 4,000 volunteers by the end of the year.
Shout is available to anyone in a crisis – anytime and anywhere. It’s described as a place to go if you are struggling to cope and you need immediate help. It has been piloted in the UK for the past year, and Shout’s body of 1,000 volunteers have already responded to 60,000 conversations. What is concerning, yet unsurprising, is that research by Shout suggests 85 percent of the texts received during the pilot were sent by people aged 25 or younger. While this underlines the need for support in this demographic, it also confirms that this method of providing it is appropriate and well targeted.
This generation are comfortable using their phones to connect; they appreciate the anonymity and the convenience of being able to communicate whenever and wherever they want. They perhaps do not require the same reassurance that a face to face encounter provides and which those of an older generation may prefer to seek out. In my view, however, anything that opens a positive conversation when one might otherwise not have taken place, has to be a good thing.
But as someone who is interested in communication, I am fascinated by this sea change in the way young people seek and provide support to one another, search for information and create (or end!) relationships. The pitfalls are well documented, with much being said about the pressures of teenage life viewed through a social media lens. But, there are undeniably positives too and like anything in life, it is achieving balance that is key.
Croydon High School places huge emphasis on wellbeing, providing timely and appropriate support to the girls in our care. This is part of our school’s DNA and generations of teachers were doing this long before wellness and mental health were so firmly in the public consciousness. The strengths of our Tutor and House systems, peer to peer mentoring and the Big Sister programme and more recently the beginnings of the Positive Project, all contribute towards sustaining this supportive community. Even physical objects, such as the famous staff room bench, act as symbols of how we do things here.
But underpinning all this, I believe, permeates a culture of respect and goodwill which drives the girls, resulting in them naturally and frequently doing things just to help make life better or easier for their peers. I see examples of this all the time at school, but have been particularly aware of it over the last few weeks, as we enter the exam period and say good luck to Year 11 and goodbye and good luck to our Year 13 leavers.
Last week, girls from Year 12 took it upon themselves to decorate the Sixth Form Common Room so that Year 13 could enjoy their traditional farewell breakfast in a party atmosphere. And they did it with such care – even choosing balloons that mirrored the colours of their Grad Ball invitations (we love a theme at Croydon High)! That same year group decided it would be nice to leave chocolates in the Year 11 Common Room, to wish those girls good luck in their imminent GCSE exams. They are small things, but they really make a difference to how people feel.
As the exams start in earnest this week, I frequently hear snatches of conversations in the corridors …” How was it…?” “You’ll be fine…you’re great…” “Good luck…come and tell me how it goes…” There is a real sense of being in this together.
The ‘exam girls’ know that their teachers are on-call to administer last minute advice, encouragement and general support. More than this, they know that their peers and the wider school community are wishing them well, willing them to do what we know they can and looking forward to celebrating with them – and yes, in a few cases, supporting them again, as they open those envelopes in August.
Our role as a school is to offer as much as we can in terms of levels of support and, where necessary, work with pupils to access other sources of assistance. The websites below are examples of initiatives and organisations that we might promote. They are interesting points of reference for parents and students alike. Regardless of where the support comes from, be it on-line or face to face, we certainly wish to sustain a community that values and supports good mental health, alongside every other aspiration we encourage in the girls in our care.
Useful links for students:
Useful links for parents:
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