Looking after the mental health and wellbeing of our pupils here at St Paul’s is a core part of the school.
Instrumental to the continued development of this has been Sam Madden, the Deputy Head – Mental Health, Wellbeing and Life Skills. We spoke to him to hear more about the school’s mental health programme.
What does your role entail?
The role was initially conceived as a way of making sure the school was doing all it could to promote the wellbeing of its pupils and staff. This meant working with the PSHE department, organising events, such as the Harry Parsons Lecture series, and supporting ‘MindMatters’ (the pupil group which organises campaigns around mental health and wellbeing). Over time the role has developed so that I now co-ordinate many of the support mechanisms at St Paul’s, such as the counselling service and the medical centre, as well as taking a lead on tracking pupil wellbeing. I am also often on hand to support pupils experiencing a particularly difficult time.
What are some of the stresses our pupils face?
The pupils tell us their number one concern is their future and I can easily understand why; they believe there is no room for mistakes even from a very early stage at their time at St Paul’s and I think a big part of our job is creating an environment where appropriate risks and experimentation are encouraged. We should also think carefully about the messages we give to young people; an awareness of things like Brexit, knife crime and the housing crisis is valuable but when do we talk to them about all the good stuff in life?
Social media certainly creates problems but I am cautious about overly-simplified explanations that blame it for everything. As adults, we tend to only see the negative aspects, not the many examples of genuinely supportive, creative and fun interactions which happen all the time. What we need to do is instil a sense of the risks and equip young people with the skills to use technology in ways which are both innovative and safe.
What is the school doing to improve pupils’ and staff’s mental health?
St Paul’s has pioneered the role out of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training and now has over 120 qualified members of staff (the government target is one per school). Indeed, St Paul’s is now recognised as a beacon of such training and regularly deliverers MHFA courses, alongside workshops on subjects such as Suicide Intervention, Safer Recruitment and Safeguarding to numerous other schools.
Events such as the annual Parsons lectures have also helped create a community which is comfortable speaking openly about Mental Health. The lectures were delivered this year by Jonny Benjamin MBE, a prominent mental health campaigner who is famous for his #FindMike Campaign and subsequent book and Channel 4 documentary ‘The Stranger on the Bridge’.
The school also has comprehensive support structures in place for those who are struggling, including two school counsellors. St Paul’s is also working with UCL and the Anna Freud Centre on a significant piece of research to determine the effectiveness of different wellbeing interventions (such as mindfulness and art therapy) in schools.
It is also a priority to promote the wellbeing of our staff and St Paul’s was the first independent school to take sign the ‘Time to Change’ Pledge and the first to take part in Mind’s ‘Workplace Wellbeing Index’.