When it’s time to assess the standard of a school, there is one big area that parents have previously overlooked - health. Perhaps you have taken scrupulous care of health concerns at home, but most likely your child spends more time at school than anywhere else. Especially in Shanghai, where the air pollution can influence outdoor activities in the winter season, where almost every international school has their own catering facility, where a multicultural community can further complicate peer pressure and school bullying, the importance of wellness at school is self-evident. And the more schools work on promoting and implementing a healthy environment, the better a child can concentrate on their academic performance and other areas.
To give our parent readers a comprehensive picture of health at school, we speak with Jo Evans, Director of Wellbeing at Wellington College International Shanghai.
Is there still a stigma regarding mental health in school?
Stigma regarding mental health is not exclusive to schools; indeed it could be argued that it is the work done within schools that has helped lead to an increased awareness of mental health. Global and local publicity, charity and government initiatives as well as curriculum changes within education have helped to develop a better understanding of the issues surrounding mental health, and in particular how to recognize when support is required.
What factors in school can possibly affect students’ mental health?
The most obvious one is pressure experienced around exam time. However friendship issues and transitions between year groups or different schools can also have an impact on the mental health of young people.
What would be the symptoms if a student is suffering from mental health issues?
Symptoms associated with mental health vary greatly depending on the individual. Problems with sleep, appetite and memory can often suggest a young person is having difficulty, along with withdrawal from social situations. If there is a change in your child’s usual behavior then it would be good to talk to them about this and the possible causes. Stress can be a positive thing. A small amount of stress upon an individual can motivate and optimize productivity. It is vital to create a break from that stress to allow for recovery, both physically and mentally. When there is no time for recovery, then stress can have an impact on mental health.
How can schools help students manage their mental health?
Most schools will have a pastoral care system that includes a counsellor and tutors who are there to provide student support. Students need to be aware of the support available to them, and be given the ability and confidence to recognize when and how to seek help. It is unreasonable to expect that any young person will not experience stress, anxiety or negative emotion at some point. However, by placing the emphasis on identifying a need for support and providing that support in a timely fashion we can often prevent small problems becoming big issues.
What program or system does Wellington College follow to encourage positive mental health within students?
Wellington College has a dedicated 'Wellbeing' curriculum which is run across the entire college to support students in the development of skills and understanding in a range of areas; relationships, self-confidence, emotion and community, global and local. As pupils move into the Senior School, the curriculum picks up philosophy and psychology to complement the work done throughout Pre-Prep and Prep school. We believe this allows pupils the opportunity to discuss and debate a variety of issues, with the intention of supporting the development of an empathetic view and confidence in self-expression. The College also encourages physical health as a way to ensure staff and pupils’ mental health!
Jo Evans is Director of Wellbeing at Wellington College International Shanghai. Jo has taught internationally in Qatar and the Falkland Islands, working across the arts and pastoral leadership, as well as leading arts faculties in schools in London and the south east of England.