Empowering students with the knowledge to create healthy habits that foster good mental health is essential. Our Middle School and High School Wellbeing program incorporates a balanced, holistic approach to mental health.
Students are given learning opportunities to understand the developing brain and how our thoughts, emotions, physical activity, sleep, lifestyle and nutrition all impact mental health.
Rewiring the brain
Students begin learning about the brain, its functions and how positive neuroplasticity exercises can train our minds to rewire the brain. For example, before going to sleep, bring to mind three moments in your day (however small) that were good and recount the situation. Writing a gratitude journal or recognizing a negative thought and replacing it with a positive one.
Understanding the stress response part of the brain and nervous system is taught and then a variety of strategies and simple practices are experienced that help students shift from reacting to calmly responding.
Many young people experience anxiety, stress and perhaps panic attacks and so we practice some simple breathing exercises that can effectively manage this.
Mindfulness is incorporated within our program to develop students’ ability to be present, engage the senses and learn useful tools that can be brought into everyday life. Young people need to ground themselves in the present moment as much of their time can be spent on social media, laptops and TV.
Providing tools and simple practices that help students be present is invaluable in maintaining balance and good mental health.
Physical activity is essential for young people’s mental health. Daily cardiovascular activity helps students to flush out any stress hormones and improves cognitive functioning. Too much sitting, slouching and not moving can impact mental health in young people significantly.
Outdoor Nature Activities
Studies have shown that connecting and being outside in nature is also key to good mental health. Therefore, whenever possible during Wellbeing classes, students go outside, to the Collserola Park, whether for an activity or a walk and talk.
Photo by Emma Simpson
Cultivating Empathy and Gratitude
Cultivating empathy and gratitude significantly improves mental health, so any activity that can bring this out in young people is a huge benefit. Students during their adolescent years can become self-absorbed and so bring in the ‘We’ factor by thinking and doing for others.
Or creating experiences that generate a feeling of gratitude can greatly shift mood and improve mental health. It could be caring for a pet dog, or a plant or getting involved in a community project.
Good quality sleep is crucial for young people and a lack of sleep or poor quality sleep impacts mental health. A healthy balance of activity and rest alongside nourishing foods, less sugar, and caffeine contribute to good sleep.
Encouraging young people to learn to relax is essential. Many young people think that relaxing is on the phone, but it is different. Time to deeply relax the body and mind helps with sleep.
Avoiding looking at a screen at least one hour before going to bed also helps with sleep. Young people’s bodies and minds are developing and need sufficient sleep and rest to grow healthy and well.
Photo by Elizabeth Lies
In our Wellbeing class, students learn, discuss, and research relevant mental health issues, emphasising breaking stigma. Students explore different mental health issues and learn how they may affect people. We explore the different treatments and support available and share stories, experiences and wonderings.
Being able to talk about mental health issues is essential. Knowing that support can be given and how to reach out is fundamental. Students also have the opportunity to speak individually with the school counsellors and can then be guided and led towards specific mental health professionals in the community that can provide the care and support students may need.
Kindness and non-judgment are key factors when supporting young people’s mental health. Providing opportunities for them to talk, listen well and validate their feelings and emotions is helpful. Recognizing early signs of mental health issues and getting the right care and support is essential.
By Anita Kleijn
BFIS Well-being Coordinator