In the shadow of the pandemic and amidst the pressures of the modern world and the usual stresses of teenage life young people, more than ever, are feeling the need to talk about their mental health.
At Watson’s, the mental wellbeing of our pupils is very important to us and while in recent years mental health has become more of an acceptable talking point in our society, there’s still a long way to go to remove the stigma.
Sam Davidson, alongside Lucy Huggett, runs Heads Together, a pupil-led group where our Senior pupils can openly talk about their own experiences and support each other.
Since its creation in 2018 with just a few members, the group has grown from strength to strength with more pupils coming to weekly sessions, some of which are standing room only.
So how does Heads Together encourage a group of teenagers to come and talk about their mental health?
Most importantly, it’s pupil-led so the group decides the issues that they want to focus on with teachers like Sam facilitating the discussions.
Pupils can choose to present to the group on a particular issue or experience that they have had and then the group discusses this as a whole. So whether that’s social anxiety, social media, OCD, the effects of lockdown or eating disorders - everyone has a chance to speak.
The pupils, especially those in Senior 6, have been instrumental in creating a supportive environment within the group. This means that pupils sharing these experiences feel listened to, but also that they don’t need to worry about sharing such personal stories.
Sam explained that the pupil-led element of the group really breaks down the barriers to discussion of these difficult topics.
The group also discusses proactive strategies to maintain good mental health such as mindfulness and exercise and although these may not work for everyone, it’s about encouraging our pupils to look holistically at how they feel and take care of themselves.
One of the real triumphs of the group is that it has encouraged more boys to talk about their mental health.
In fact, that’s where the group started from. There was a feeling that although there were really good services available to pupils through the school’s Pupil Support, boys were less likely to come forward.
Since then the group has opened up to everyone, however, there is a really strong male presence, from the School Captain to 1st XIV rugby players, and that in itself is a huge step forward to reducing the stigma of talking about mental health, especially amongst young men.
Sam explained that some of the boys in the group had mentioned that speaking about mental health and how they felt with their friends wasn’t really something they would have considered doing. But since attending the group, and with just one or two boys speaking up, it has ‘opened the floodgates’ for more honest discussions.
Our pupils speak for themselves when it comes to how important they think a group like Heads Together is. Last year the group put together a campaign to address the stigma surrounding mental health, where they sold T-shirts to raise awareness. Their powerful campaign video, put together by now former pupil Caitlin Ferguson has been watched thousands of times.
This year, the group aims to focus their efforts, amongst other things, on introducing positive discussions around mental wellbeing to our Junior School pupils.
We know that sometimes our young people face difficulties with their mental health and we take their concerns seriously. Through Heads Together we are working with our pupils, letting them lead the discussion to develop support networks and change the culture around mental health for the better.