Preparing for the start of the new academic year is an exciting time. From the end of July the shops have put up their “Back to School” banners and are full of “essential” paraphernalia for the new school year. I am delighted to note, that even in our digital age, stationery has not gone out of fashion. Pencil cases and notebooks have not yet been fully replaced by tablets or other gadgets as they emerge on desks shiny and pristine every September. I am sure we will all fondly remember a personal favourite item of school equipment from some stage of our education evoking memories of childhood and learning. I certainly do!
At the end of September the BBC published a worrying article on its news app entitled “Quarter of 14 year old girls have signs of depression”. The article quoted a government funded study of over 10,000 young people with the research focusing on how many experienced the signs of depression. Surveys with their parents, however, suggested that many parents were not attuned to the true anxieties of their children. Parents often underestimated daughters’ stress. Lead investigator Dr Praveetha Patalay, from Liverpool University, said teenagers, and particularly girls, were facing more mental health difficulties than previous generations. Many factors could be contributing, including exam stress and worries about body image, and the pressure of keeping your profile up to date on social media, experts believe.
However, the rise could also be down to a greater willingness to acknowledge mental health problems by society. Demand for specialist services is growing, but child and adolescent mental health teams are overstretched and turn away nearly a quarter of the young patients referred to them. With a quarter of 14-year-old girls showing signs of depression, it’s now beyond doubt that this problem is reaching crisis point.
A week later an article regarding “mental toughness” was published in the educational press. It stated that, according to a recent study, pupils in independent schools were “mentally tough”. The study went on to detail that “Pupils in independent schools are controlled, committed, confident and like a challenge”. The quantitative research by leading psychometric test publisher AQR International shows pupils in independent schools have good attainment, wellbeing and behaviour and are more resilient, better at dealing with setbacks and more open to learning as a result. With a greater spotlight being shone on mental health and wellbeing in schools of all types, the data and intelligence gathered in this study will put schools in an excellent position to be able to focus all work in these areas with greater knowledge, accuracy and detail.
At Saint Martin’s we strongly believe that what happens outside the classroom is as important as what happens inside. Of course, exam results matter, but not as much as the qualities that allow pupils to leave school able to thrive, both professionally and personally, in the fluid, ever-changing and let-go world of the 21st century. Emotional intelligence, reaction to failure, leadership, perseverance, resilience and the ability to improvise and adapt on one’s feet are increasingly important.
Well-being, resilience and mental toughness are all important topics for the girls at Saint Martin’s. This term, Miss Winn our new Head of PSCHEE has started a “Wellbeing Committee” consisting of sixteen girls from Year 6 who have been set the task of tackling the issue of mental health within school and helping to develop coping strategies. They voted unanimously to tackle the issue for the younger girls by making a film. They are working in groups now to script various role-plays to include body image, anxiety, phobias, friendships, bullying & cyberbullying and FOMO (fear of missing out). Francesca Pearson in the Sixth Form is editor-in -chief for the Senior School leaflet/blog to share issues concerning mindfulness in the Senior School.
In addition, girls and members of staff in Senior School have voted for the Senior School Charity 2017-2018. It came as no surprise that several of the nominated charities were linked with mental health. The winning charity proposed by the Sixth Form was MIND (www.mind.org.uk.) MIND provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. More importantly they won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.
Whilst researching this topic, I came across a website from “Rethink Mental Illness” (www.rethink.org). Their homepage listed five easy tips on how to look after our mental well-being and face the challenges life throws at us:
- Make life better for others
- Feed your creative side
- Balance your diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Keep active
As we break up for our half term holiday the Sixth Form girls will have arrived in the United States for their cultural trip to New York and Washington – we look forward to hearing about their travels next half term. I will be returning to school as Mrs Smillie following my wedding to Michael on 20 October.
I hope you all have a restful half term break.