According to a study by Young Minds, one in six children aged five to 16 were identified as “having a probable mental health problem” in July 2020. With the long-term impact of the Coronavirus pandemic still unknown, mental health in young people has never been so important. At ESMS, our Mental Health Ambassadors programme is just one of many initiatives we provide to support our pupils’ wellbeing.
Each year, pupils from across our senior schools volunteer to become a fully trained Mental Health Ambassador (MHA) for their house team. Mental Health Ambassadors offer fellow pupils an approachable and friendly ear, whilst also raising awareness in our community of mental health and helping to combat any stigmas.
We caught up with two of our ESMS Mental Health Ambassadors, Eleanor W from The Mary Erskine School and James H from Stewart's Melville College, to find out more about the role that Mental Health Ambassadors have in our community:
Why did you want to volunteer to be a Mental Health Ambassador?
Eleanor (E) - I wanted to volunteer to become a Mental Health Ambassador because I believe in the good the programme does in our school, and I wanted to be a part of this. I believe that it is important to break the stigma around mental health and create a greater awareness of mental health in our school community.
James (J) - I was interested in being able to be a good role model to the younger students whilst also being there to support them with any troubles they may be facing. Moreover, I understand that it can be daunting, especially for new and younger students, to go and speak to teachers about any issues so I felt it was important to help bridge the gap between pupils and staff.
What is your role as a Mental Health Ambassador?
E - My role as a Mental Health Ambassador includes delivering sessions on mental health to an S2 form class. These sessions cover topics such as stress, depression and friendships. I am also part of a weekly rota for the Mental Health Ambassador drop-in that runs at lunchtime.
J - I am involved in organising and running the Chill Out Rooms, a safe space where pupils can come and relax during Wednesday and Friday lunchtimes. We also have MHAs out on patrol around the school as friendly faces that people can chat to. Also, we offer Self-care Friday Sessions and anti-anxiety training for pupils across the school, which aim to show students some ways they can relax if they are feeling stressed out.
Tell us about some of the training you received to help you fulfil your role?
E - At the beginning of the school year at MES, we were given two days of training for our roles as Mental Health Ambassadors. This training was led by mental health trainers Emily Justice and Alison Ebbitt. On the first day we were shown how to deliver the mental health sessions and went through the dialogue and activities involved. On the second day we were assigned a session in groups and delivered this session ourselves.
J - Before term started in August, all the SMC MHA applicants had an afternoon with Melanie, the school counsellor, who taught us how to support pupils if they were going through a rough time and who we should notify if we have any concerns about anyone we spoke to. This went hand in hand with the child protection training we received, fully enabling us to know how to react and what we should do in different situations. Then later in the first term, Melanie spoke to us again about anti-anxiety techniques which we could use if anyone was having a panic attack or was very stressed out. This was really useful as it made me far more confident in being able to fulfil my role to the fullest.
What does a day in the role look like?
E - The requirements as an MHA can vary from day to day. A typical Monday in the role would include delivering a session on mental health to an S2 class during the morning’s admin period.
J - A standard day involves being a good role model to the younger students, not just in following all the school rules but by looking after our mental health. On days when the Chill Out Room doesn’t run, we just go about our day normally whilst being positive and approachable because even though we might not be ‘on duty’ most people know who the MHAs are.
What is your favourite part about being a Mental Health Ambassador?
E - To be able to share information on mental health with young people through the sessions we deliver. I think it is important for people to be aware of what it means to struggle with our mental health, how to identify this in ourselves and others, and the ways in which we can seek help.
J - Overall, the most enjoyable part of being an MHA is seeing the positive impact that we can have on our school community. It is really rewarding being in the Chill Out Room and seeing everyone smiling and having a great time. It’s also great having conversations with pupils in the Chill Out Rooms and getting to know them.
What would you say to any pupils who are struggling at the moment with their mental health?
E - I would encourage someone who is struggling with their mental health to talk to someone they trust. This can be a parent, teacher, Mental Health Ambassador or another trusted adult. Myself and the other Mental Health Ambassadors took on our roles because we care about those who are struggling with their mental health and want to help. We will listen to you, and we will do our best to help you or direct you towards the help that you need.
J - Honestly, I think the greatest piece of advice I could give someone struggling with their mental health is to talk to someone about it, whether that be a parent, teacher, or friend. Mental health is as important as physical health so treat them with equal care. For example, if you injured yourself playing sport you wouldn’t just ignore it, you would go to the doctor to get it treated. Mental health is the same, don’t just ignore it.
Thank you to Eleanor and James for taking time out to tell us about the Mental Health Ambassador programme. You and your fellow Ambassadors are doing such important work reducing the stigma of mental health and expanding the support available to our pupils.