With it being Mental Health Awareness week this week (18th – 22nd May), it couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time. With nine weeks of lockdown under our belts, it may be safe to say that a lot of people are starting to ‘feel the strain’. Yes we may be clapping for the NHS, postal workers, farmers, lorry drivers, shop cashiers and many, many other keyworkers – but we are overlooking some other heroes?
The young people. Our children. Their lives have been turned upside down, shaken up beyond recognition and plonked back down into a society and world which doesn’t make much sense. During the ‘old normal’, screen time was forever labelled as a ‘bad thing’. Now more than ever, children are being asked and encouraged to FaceTime/Zoom/Skype/WhatsApp call. Sleepovers, parties, football games – all cancelled. They can’t see their friends as they normally would. They can’t play team sports. They perhaps can’t even see loved ones, and may even have loved ones immediately affected by the virus.
The impact on mental health is huge. And will be huge for years to come. For most young people – they spend approximately 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 35 weeks a year at school. This is where they absorb more than just academic knowledge. This is where social interactions are learnt. Life lessons. How to behave. How to be part of a team, a leader, a facilitator. And all of this has been taken away with the onset of the pandemic.
So what can schools do? What are schools doing? At St Bees School, they are fortunate enough to have a small cohort of students that the transition to “online school” has gone seamlessly. Students are all working via Microsoft Teams and maintaining their regular school timetables, with regular face-to-face contact with peers and teachers. As such, the impact on their mental health and wellbeing has been severely reduced.
In a recent lesson – part of St Bees’ unique ‘Global Awareness Programme’, students were asked to list the top ten things that made them happy. Amongst the ten were family, self-understanding, giving back… and even school. So, it goes to show, that maintaining this concept of routine and continuity can hugely impact the mental state of a child.
Parent feedback has been hugely positive – not just on the happiness of their child at the school, but also the family as a complete unit:
“The St Bees online learning has really benefited our family as a whole. We use the time table as a basis for our family day so everyone is up, showered and ready to go by 8:30. We all capitalise on the set breaks and play football, rounders, cricket or frisby during the morning break and at lunchtime. This enables us to have good quality family time as well as seeing to our mental and physical well being. As you say [at the school], work hard, play hard.”
Mr Sinnett, Headmaster, fully believes in communication being the key player in a situation such as this.
“It is imperative that we keep up communication with staff, students and parents – both on academic matters, but also matter of mental health and wellbeing.”
“Alongside regular emails home, our fully trained and attentive Mental Health staff leads are on hand in providing that support for anyone within the staff community. One of our biggest features of St Bees, which we are most proud of, is our unique mentoring system – where students discuss their goals, challenges and ambitions with a designated member of staff. Using Teams, we have managed to continue with this part of our school day – to huge benefit to the students. They are fully able to express themselves, in a confidential setting, with a teacher they trust.”
Offering up services such as mentoring, with regular contact and providing safe spaces for our young people is something that is fundamental to the current situation. And as we slowly make the tentative steps towards a very different new normal, St Bees have got in hand in capturing, aiding and supporting their students to their global futures.