St James Senior School’s Sixth Form Girls become Mental Health Champions

22nd September 2020

At St James Senior Girls’ School, London, the introduction of 6th Formers as Mental Health Champions was a student-led initiative. In my role as Mental Health Lead, I had been trained by Rachel Ewan from Mental Health and Wellbeing Training Ltd in the ‘Youth Mental Health First Aid’ course and so I got back in touch, regarding training up the girls.

The 6th Form, because they are connected to pupils in other year groups via social media, are increasingly aware of the pressures that younger girls faced and wanted to know if there was anything that they could do to support the mental health of younger girls. The ‘Mental Health Champions’ course (from Mental Health First Aid England) is ideal for this, open to anyone over the age of 16, as it introduces the key concepts of mental health and mental illness along with clear guidelines to help and support students who are struggling. Last year’s Year 13, the first group of girls to train as Mental Health Champions, felt hugely empowered by their training, led by the extremely knowledgeable and approachable Rachel (who has 20 years’ experience as an NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Nurse, latterly working in this role as a mental health trainer for Cambridgeshire schools. She has also been a boarding house resident tutor). As a result of this training, they set up a ‘chocolate and chat clinic’ at lunchtimes. Girls from all year groups attended and many of these visits resulted in longer-term mentoring and support. The girls also ran sessions for staff and parents on ‘on listening to teenagers’ and ‘a teens online world’ and took Form Times on mental wellbeing.

The success of last year’s Mental Health Champion team saw the course oversubscribed this year with a waiting list of Year 12 students keen to train as Mental Health Champions. However, the Mental Health Champions course is not yet available online, so Rachel delivered her own online ‘Mental Health Awareness’ course instead (adapted from the one she delivered in Cambridgeshire schools), which proved a resounding success with the students, who are ready to deliver socially-distanced support to their peers over MS Teams.

Written by Charlotte de la Pena, Deputy Head at St James Senior Girls’ School