December 09, 2021
Supporting student wellbeing
In a time of social media algorithms, blue light from screens and the pressure of being “liked”, it is vital, now more than ever, that we protect and promote student mental health.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in seven 10–19-year-olds experience a mental disorder1 and over a third of young people (34%) said that their mental health has got much worse during the pandemic2. We believe it is imperative to continuously learn about what impacts young people and proactively introduce tools and methods to support our students.
Student wellbeing is fundamental across our schools; one of our key pillars is to create a positive environment for learning. Across our global community, we nurture kindness, curiosity, and creativity. We ensure students are equipped with human skills, such as emotional intelligence and self-knowledge, so that they feel comfortable, secure, and healthy – both physically and mentally healthy - in their (often) home-away-from-home.
In this article, we share a few of the initiatives that we have implemented to support student wellbeing at our schools.
Dedicated welfare and mental health staff
Across several of our schools, we have a dedicated team for Student Welfare, including Head of Welfare staff, Pastoral Directors, Mental Health Leads and College Counsellors. Our College Counsellors offer formal counselling for students who may benefit specifically from additional help and guidance. The support they provide is specific to the individual and include strategies for various needs – from anxiety and depression to eating disorders, bereavement, and trauma.
Emma Corkan, College Counsellor at CATS Canterbury, shares a case study of a student who has benefitted from the Student Welfare team’s support:
“A recent student was experiencing extreme panic attacks, low mood and very low self-esteem. By attending counselling sessions at CATS Canterbury, they went from barely being able to focus in class, feeling intensely irritable and having strained peer relationships to getting better sleep, having more focus in class, improved grades and generally a richer more balanced life.”
“The number one tool we possess is trust. Students at CATS Cambridge self-refer to us and at times urge their friends to engage with us. Trust and community are the most important and effective tools schools have to promote and support students’ wellbeing. Students are more likely to engage with the ‘obvious’ if they are comfortable, safe, and trust the community that is tasked with promoting positive wellbeing. “The service we provide gives students choice and control over their lives and the issues they may face. It empowers them to make the decision to engage and be supported.”
Head of Welfare, CATS Cambridge
Protecting and promoting positive mental health in our schools
“It is not just about getting our young people to university, it is about ensuring that they leave us equipped for life, able to make the most of the opportunities that come their way, but also, able to navigate the challenges and obstacles that inevitably happen to everyone.”
Principal, CATS Cambridge
Dominic Tomalin, Principal at CATS Cambridge, interviewed Dr Alex George, the UK Government Ambassador for Youth Mental Health, on Global Wellness Day 2021. Dr Alex has been at the forefront of mental health since the pandemic. One discussion they had was around technological advancements, and how technology is moving quicker than we can evolve.
As part of the Global Wellness Day interview, Dr Alex shared some practical steps that young people can take to positively manage their social media usage - such as recognising why they are on social media, curating their platform so that it aligns with their purpose for being online and setting some boundaries around time. The conversation also covered the impact of sleep, eating well, fresh air, movement, and social connection on mental wellbeing. At CATS Cambridge, students take part in Personal Development Days throughout the academic year, such as Mental Health and Wellbeing Day – where students can go on a Wellbeing Walk, get involved in a range of wellbeing activities and take part in a digital detox.
"The Wellbeing Walk on Mental Health and Wellbeing Day was a great reminder of the importance of taking a short break and connecting with our peers. I got to connect with my Personal Tutor group and other people in my house."
Lev, Student at CATS Cambridge
Wellbeing plays a crucial role in student welfare at St Michael’s School and in addition to Sixth Form students mentoring pupils who have worries or concerns, there is a dedicated Health and Wellbeing School Prefect. This role includes supporting with:
- The ‘Quiet room’ – supervised by Sixth Form prefects – to provide a comfortable safe space during break and lunchtime, and support for the most vulnerable students
- Bulletin boards to raise awareness – that offer useful tips and advice
- Sixth Form Student Mentors – who support pupils with any worries or concerns
“At St. Michael's, pupils are aware that their health and wellbeing will always be prioritised over academic success. As Health & Wellbeing Prefect, I believe it is essential to provide a safe space for pupils to share their concerns and raise awareness on their physical and mental wellbeing. "A Wellbeing Club is launching in the new year, with meditation and yoga sessions taking place after school. Topics will range from diet to hours of sleep and even methods of breathing. These small changes can improve students’ wellbeing significantly.”
Kelly from Hong Kong
Health & Wellbeing School Prefect, St Michael’s School
‘Tell Us’ and ‘Need to Talk’ buttons – communication tools
Across our schools, we ensure students feel comfortable and have methods of reaching out when they are struggling. Two of our communications tools are called the ‘Tell Us’ and ‘Need to Talk’ buttons, both student feedback systems, which encourage students to let staff know of any problems or concerns they may have. The buttons mean students can notify staff 24 hours a day and receive responses and solutions quickly.
At CATS Global Schools, we have a range of offerings to support students across our community.
- Access to safeguarding and pastoral welfare teams
- Personal Tutors - who deliver the PHSE and RSE curriculum, support students with their academic progress and offer regular 1-to-1 welfare checks
- Talks and workshops on topics such as consent, sexting, alcohol consumption, substance use and CPR
- Personal Development Days – including Mental Health and Wellbeing Day and Relationship and Sex Education Day
- Student and teen health publications and newsletters
Student wellbeing is incredibly important across our schools. With a global community and students from over 100 nationalities, we ensure to take a variety of different approaches to support our students – and this is something that is always developing as the world changes. Ultimately, we nurture students, so that they can be healthy, happy and ready for tomorrow’s world.
1 World Health Organisation (Nov 17, 2021), Adolescent mental health, World Health Organisation, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health
2 Mind (July 2020), Coronavirus: the consequences for mental health, Mind, https://www.mind.org.uk/media/8962/the-consequences-of-coronavirus-for-mental-health-final-report.pdf