Students who prioritize their mental health are more successful, happier and well-balanced both academically and in day-to-day life. In a recent study, the World Health Organization identified that 1-in-6 people during adolescence will experience a mental health condition, and that stigma around mental health inhibits their readiness to seek help.
At Brookwood, we believe that creating a school culture where it is okay, even encouraged, to discuss the status of your mental health will benefit every student and help them to become the most successful versions of themselves. As cited in our guiding philosophy, the New Face of Rigor:
Just as our undertaking with students today has evolved away from a focus on memorization and competition, what we know about learning has also changed… Unlike our predecessors, we know now that emotions actually influence thought and that students learn best when they feel physically healthy, personally recognized, and emotionally safe.
Since Brookwood’s inception, we’ve known that how kids feel determines in large measure whether kids learn. Our efforts to further strengthen our commitment to wellness, as noted in our strategic plan, includes plans to build a school-wide wellness program to create a culture of balance and well-being while providing kids and families with tools to live healthy lives. In today’s information-saturated and complicated popular culture, we recognize our critical responsibility to help students obtain the information, skills and strategies they need to make healthy decisions for their bodies, hearts and minds.
When kids feel supported and have access to tools that enable them to work through their own challenges and stressors, they are able to become their best selves.
Most recently, we introduced a new eighth grade student leadership group focused on mental health awareness. In order to participate, students were asked to write an essay on why they felt drawn to the topic of wellness and what they could offer to the community by serving as an ambassador for this group. Seven students were selected and have begun identifying ways in which we can promote good mental health practices around campus.
We’ve been moving full-steam ahead even though it’s only our first semester at work. Our first order of business was to negotiate on the leadership group’s name – students preferred the “Brain Ensemble” over the more formal title. In our first meeting, we identified what topics we felt truly affected the student population. We pondered questions like:
- What is mental health and what does it mean to take care of your mental health?
- Why is mental health as important as physical health?
- What are anxiety and depression and what can we do to support those around us that suffer through these challenges?
- How does addiction to social media affect our mental health?
Our first outreach opportunity came before Thanksgiving when we led a mindfulness activity with Mrs. Cunningham’s third grade class. We played “gratitag,” a game students created that was inspired by freeze tag; in order to be unfrozen, students had to identify something in their life for which they were grateful. In the Upper School, we practice gratitude as a tool for regulating our thoughts. Our eighth grade ambassadors wanted to help their younger counterparts incorporate these healthy habits into their daily lives.
Now, the Brain Ensemble is reaching out to Upper School team leaders to arrange opportunities during Personal Growth and Development to educate the broader student body on these issues. We are also collaborating with in-house mental health experts to advocate for and educate students, including Head of Upper School Mr. Samson, Consulting Clinical Psychologist Dr. Shayda Ahi and Director of Health and Wellness Nurse Kiley.
Adolescent years can be challenging, and our student leaders want to help themselves and their classmates build the skills to take care of their mental health today, and well into the future.