On Thursday the 21st of October, we hosted our first Mental Health Awareness Afternoon as a community called ‘Stop the Stigma’, centred around destigmatising mental health matters and normalising conversations about mental wellbeing. From DUCKS all the way through to Year 13, each year group participated in activities that informed, engaged, and challenged us. They pushed us to develop a more nuanced understanding of mental health.
In the Senior School, some activities were specific to each year group’s theme of focus, while others were consistent across all year groups. For example, as an introduction to the session, we received messages from the College Leadership Team as they discussed their experiences with mental health. It showed us that it was okay to show vulnerability and encouraged us to do the same within our group discussions.
Different year groups were assigned different aspects of mental health to focus on, tailored to their experiences in different stages of College life. KS3 students focused primarily on understanding emotions, to help give them an introduction to the importance of mental health. The topic was therefore introduced with themes they are more familiar with in their day-to-day life, and the activities aimed to imbue them with the skills to understand and manage the emotions they experience.
“This event was extremely important as it gave us an idea of how significant it was to talk about our emotions and how to react in different situations.” - Kyle W (Year 8)
Given the atmosphere of stress sometimes caused by the IGCSE exams, the main focus for KS4 was exploring feelings of stress and anxiety and evaluating methods for coping with these feelings. The emphasis was placed on recognising the ways stress can be beneficial but also being able to identify when stress is counter-productive to students’ progress. The activities were tailored to help ease the academic pressure students inevitably face, as this pressure possesses the power to both motivate and hinder students during their exams.
“The reason we believe that mental health is crucial is the fact that it makes us feel safe and boosts our self-esteem. It also makes us feel happier as we feel more confident about ourselves.” - Mia A (Year 8)
As Year 12 students, the theme that we focused on was 'sadness vs depression'. We examined our interpretation of the distinctions between sadness, an emotion, and depression, a diagnosis, as these may sometimes feel alike or manifest in similar ways. Through engaging in discussions, we became more aware of why stigma exists around the topic of depression, and how to help someone near us who may be going through difficulties with mental wellbeing. It was greatly beneficial for us to have this time to understand the respective symptoms of sadness and depression, so that we remain mindful of our mental health, particularly in such a busy stage of our educational journey. Critically, in Year 12 and Year 13, we were reminded of the importance of seeking help against sadness and depression. This will help to remove the stigma and push us to initiate mental health conversations with those around us.
“I believe that this Mental Health awareness day is very important, the reason being when we get into higher grades we want to release our stress. A strong solution is to share and tell someone. On this day, we learned that it is okay to share your vulnerabilities because everyone has them!” - Riyasath T (Year 8)
As a community, we learned that we can not develop, succeed, or thrive without embracing our struggles and weaknesses and accepting them as a part of our identity. This encapsulates the primary aims of our MentalHealth Awareness afternoon, as well as the school’s continuing efforts at destigmatising discussions surrounding mental health. With this initiative, and many more to come, we can confidently say that collectively, we are more informed, aware, and supportive of the mental wellbeing of everyone in our community.