The BRITs 2018 Mind, Music Support and The BRIT School cheque presentation, The BRIT School, Tuesday 19th June, photo John Marshall/JM Enternational

Mental Health Awareness Week – The BRIT School: Claire Mullord, Assistant Principal Student Experience

To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, we are running a series of guest blogs focusing on the role of music in mental health from some of the initiatives we work closely with including the BRIT School, Nordoff Robbins, Music Support, Key4Life, Help Musicians & more.

Last June we received a significant donation to support our work in Mental Health from the BRIT Trust, and we used these funds to create a specific full time Wellbeing Co-ordinator post, designed to create a formalised wellbeing programme, as well provide day to day support and advice for our students and staff.

Over the last year we have worked in a partnership with Mind to support mental health in school as part of their pilot scheme to unite pupils, parents and staff to tackle the issues around supporting mental health. We took part in the Mind Mental Health is Schools survey, that received over 1000 responses from our students, their parents and our staff, a clear indication of how important this issue is to all parties. The survey revealed our strengths in supporting wellbeing as well revealing areas to further develop.

Mind have provided expertise, time and insight into how we can continue to improve our strategies to support positive mental health. They have provided workshops for Year 11 students, supervision for our pastoral staff and sessions for parents on how to support their children and their own mental health.

Across the school we continue to talk frankly and openly about our mental health and all our student experience services are devising creative ways to support. The Learning Resource Centre (LRC) run monthly sessions called ‘BRIT is Talking in the Library’ once a term, facilitated by our librarians and the wellbeing co-ordinator. Cakes and drinks are available to students at lunch time and they are invited to take part in a session focusing on a mental health first aid toolkit. Each session encourages them to look at their stress containers – how well they are managing their wellbeing and mental health, focusing on related themes in each session. The student participants are encouraged to discuss this in the group.

Continuing this theme we have also created a ‘Books for Success’ section in the LRC, which includes Reading Well for Young People books, and in conjunction with Libraries Week, we ran activities focused on mental wellbeing: art therapy – providing art supplies for students and staff to paint their moods; a spoken word masterclass with the performance poet and writer; a Q&A session with illustrator and writer, Jada Bruney working with an activist and rapper to re-write bad experiences; and a tea party where cakes and board games were available for people throughout the school to feel welcome. Jada Bruney and Potent Whisper are former students and it was empowering for current students to be working with inspiring alumni.

10 May, The BRIT School, Croydon

A huge focus in the media, coupled with our own day to day experience of pastoral care and regular conversations with healthcare professionals suggest that we are facing a mental health crisis in the UK and that our focus as a school needs to be on prevention, such as promoting ‘self-care’, and early intervention rather than ‘treatment’.

Evidence from Young Minds and the National Children’s Bureau, further supported by Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) points to a co-ordinated whole school approach being ‘the only effective long term way to improve mental health, where all parts of the organisation and its community are encouraged to work together in their commitment to wellbeing.’

We already promote emotional well-being as a school and tackle issues around mental health offering wide-ranging well-being support and education: pastoral leaders, Directors and tutors are in place to support the day to day issues young people face. Being a creative arts school, we can offer a valuable outlet for young people, who can use their talents to channel a positive mind set.  There is a shared focus that music, art, theatre, community outreach work can enrich people’s lives and the school has always had a culture of sharing talents with both the school and local communities.

It is imperative we adopt strategies to improve the well-being of young people, particularly against the backdrop of examination pressure, assessments and in our particular school, the ability to perform or put creative work out in the public sphere.  So here we have trained staff to identify the early warning signs of mental health illness in young people (especially deriving from stress, bullying, family breakdown and abuse) and focus on strategies such as nutrition and sleep, sex and relationship education, emotional intelligence, stress coping strategies, resilience and other ‘soft life-skills’.  We provide a counselling service, a personal development programme: nutrition, sleep, free yoga, football and mindfulness sessions- which are proving really helpful to focus stressed minds. We also ensure there are safe zones around the school for students.

Another key to helping the school support mental health is working alongside charities and ambassadors such as Music Support, who with their knowledge and experience can give students preventative and active support. We  recently we hosted Polly Teale’s inner-critic resilience workshop with Year 13 leavers and invited Caryn Franklin, positive body image ambassador, in to share her thoughts and experiences on well-being (amongst other topics) with Year 12.

The School provides a creative outlet for over 1300 young people, which means that day- to-day, everyone needs to understand how mental health can affect the school community.

The BRIT School embraces the values of Responsibility, Originality and Ambition and these values need to be supported with a robust framework and focus on well-being. We have an active student voice who are telling us that their peers are challenged by mental health so we have trialed meditation, yoga and mindfulness sessions, as well as regularly reviewing the food offer in the canteen to promote nutrition for well-being; for example we have a morning mindfulness session, with healthy breakfast, to prepare for and run through the impending exam period.

A community that believes in the power of art and music is often a positive one and the ability to be able to express yourself in a safe environment is paramount to taking risks but keeping mental health in check.