Case study

Beechen Cliff School

Changing the culture surrounding Mental Health at Beechen Cliff School in Bath

Susie Ingram - Setting the scene:

At Beechen Cliff School, we are really proud to be working with Boys in Mind / Girls Mind Too as one of their lead secondary schools, helping them develop good practice to share with other schools. During the past 5 years, in my role as Sixth Form Pastoral Manager at Beechen Cliff, I have become increasingly concerned about the number of young people struggling with anxiety and other mental health problems.

Whilst some were prepared to come forward to ask for help, I was aware that there were significant numbers who were scared to ask for support, for fear of the stigma attached to the whole subject of mental ill health. In particular, our boys were even less likely to come forward than our girls. I became determined to see what, if anything, could be done to change this.

Assembling a team:

In July 2018, the Sixth Form Senior Prefect Team for 2018-19 was established and I asked for volunteers to form a working committee on mental health. Our first job was to brainstorm how we could encourage more students to access support during their time in the Sixth Form, and ideally as early as possible in Lower Sixth. We formed a Mental Health Team of student ambassadors and we discussed how we could change the culture surrounding openness and the willingness of their peers to seek help if they were struggling.

It was not a great surprise that the students who were passionate to join the team were either students whom I had previously supported with their personal mental health problems, or who cared because of friends or family who were struggling in silence. In particular, the students whom I had personally supported were keen to share the difference that talking and getting support had made to their own mental health.

The challenge:

When I asked the team just how big a problem they felt existed amongst their peers, one student ambassador said “To be honest, it would be easier to tell you who doesn’t have a mental health issue than who does….” In our Sixth Form of over 400, I knew we were on the road to success because of the large numbers of students who were coming forward for support already.

The concern I had was that there were clearly many more who were not comfortable seeking support; our challenge was how to change this. According to government statistics, 1 in 4 teenagers are affected by mental ill health at some point. From the student feedback within our team, I was concerned that the numbers affected could be even bigger.

What we did next:

The Mental Health Team floated the idea of holding an hour-long interactive assembly, once with Lower Sixth and separately with Upper Sixth. We then brainstormed what we could do to make the students feel more comfortable to come forward for support; . Having years of experience of delivering assemblies and understanding the importance of student engagement, I knew that students would only pay attention if they could relate to the content. And so the idea of sharing testimonies was born.

Some of the Mental Health Team ambassadors bravely offered to tell their personal stories first, and then the idea went further and I was able to ask others whom I had helped if they would be prepared to write a testimony which could be read out anonymously. The team were even able to talk with staff about our plans and some staff volunteered to give their own accounts of mental ill health too. Parents were informed and gave consent to the students being involved, with great care given to ensure this would have a positive impact on those involved and their current mental health.

Organising the assemblies:

The early part of the assembly was quite fast paced and interactive. Upon arrival, students were given coloured cards on their seats and were asked to stand if they had a specific colour to give a visual representation of what 1 in 4 teenagers (with mental ill health) looked like. Students were then invited to take part in an interactive quiz on facts and myths to do with mental ill health. We showed the powerful Boys in Mind video about male suicide called, ‘A letter to my younger self’, and gave breaks between each segment for the students to chat and reflect.

Some of the 12 students who read out anonymous and personal testimonies from staff and students at the assembly

Testimonies:

It was the last part of the assembly though that really made the difference: a staggering 100% of students fed back that the testimonies were the best thing about it. We had always hoped that students would listen to their peers, to those who had been brave enough to seek support and tell their stories of the difference it had made to them.

Over 12 student and staff testimonies were read out and the impact of hearing these, especially the personal ones, was ground-breaking. Many students remarked that they would never have guessed that some of these students had suffered at all with their mental health, and hearing that they had somehow ‘normalised’ the problem. It also helped them to feel more willing to come forward to get help too.

There were so many different stories to which students could relate and they were aware that these accounts were from students in their own Sixth Form. Recognising the faces of the students (even if they didn’t know them well as close friends) seemed to make a difference to the way the audience paid attention.

Some students felt able to cry when reading their testimonies and this too made it all the more powerful and supportive. Hearing from staff members who shared their anonymous testimonies about times when their mental health suffered was also incredibly empowering. Many students said that this helped them to realise that our mental health can suffer but, like our physical health, with the right interventions, it can get better. The testimonies formed the final part of the assembly and took around 15 minutes to deliver.

Afterwards, we gave students the chance to gather their thoughts and to talk amongst themselves before I concluded the assembly by explaining where students could go to access support. I also encouraged all of them to signpost their friends if they knew someone who was struggling. If anything, the students’ feedback was that they would have liked more breaks to digest what was being said and reflect. We will do this next time.

What was the impact?:

In all the years of working in education, I have never experienced an assembly where the atmosphere of mutual support and understanding was so palpable. A week after the assemblies, I conducted a feedback survey with both Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth to measure the impact:

  • The Boys – Before the assembly, 57% of the boys would have been quite unlikely or would have refused to seek help. After the assembly, we saw a remarkable shift, with 74% of the boys saying they would now be likely or extremely likely to seek support
  • The Girls – Yet again, the difference was significant. Before the assembly, 62% of the girls would have been quite unlikely or would have refused to seek help. After the assembly, we saw an enormous change, with 84% of the girls saying they would now be likely or extremely likely to seek support. 

Fifteen weeks on, what has changed?:

Since the assemblies, probably the most positive outcome we have witnessed has been a noticeable sea-change in the way our Sixth Form students look out for one another and are happy to signpost their friends or ask for help themselves. Some students set up group chats for their tutor groups offering to be there for one another if their fellow tutees needed someone to talk to.

The demand for support has exceeded all expectations and we are delighted that students now feel they can come forward if they are struggling – this means we can help them access the support they need as early as possible during their time in Sixth Form. In response to the unprecedented demand, Beechen Cliff has now employed the additional services of two professional counsellors from the well-known local young peoples’ service “Off The Record”(OTR) exclusively for Sixth Formers. There has also been increased support in the Lower School from OTR which is equally having a positive impact.

We are thrilled that students who need support can now access counselling or listening support services in school (instead of waiting to be referred offsite) with minimal disruption to their busy week. Most surprisingly, more boys than girls are now seeking support, although referrals from the boys and the girls have both increased dramatically.

What next?:

Following the successful launch of the mental health assemblies with the Sixth Form, we are now looking at replicating the model to younger years in an age-appropriate way. We have asked staff if they would like to be trained to be better equipped to listen to students with mental health concerns and incredibly over 60 staff have volunteered to become mental health staff ambassadors.

These members staff will wear distinctive lanyards to identify themselves easily to all students in the school. Training options are currently been explored and we are very excited to have a whole-school approach to breaking down stigma surrounding mental ill health. We are also working with other schools to share good practice. Exciting times lie ahead”

Susie Ingram – Sixth Form Pastoral Manager & Mental Health Champion – Beechen Cliff School

Some of the 12 students who read out anonymous and personal testimonies from staff and students at the assembly

Gabe from Beechen Cliff

Gabe

I’d like to talk about what we’ve been doing at Beechen Cliff, which shows that attempting to break down stigma and raise awareness does work.

At the school I’m on the Mental Health Team, and we’re trying to improve the support available there and get more people to access it when necessary, obviously with the focus on boys; it’s an all-boys school from Year 7 to 11 with a mixed sixth form that is 70% male.

A first step we took was to deliver two extended assemblies – one to the Upper Sixth and one to the Lower Sixth. These included interactive elements, the first Boys in Mind film (a Letter to my Younger Self) and finally, anonymised testimonies from male and female sixth formers and teachers, giving accounts about how they had struggled in the past and in what ways they sought support. The final 5 testimonies were not anonymised, and were personal testimonies from each member of the team delivering the assembly – myself included.

You could absolutely hear a pin drop in that room, and the impact of the assembly was palpable.

Before the assembly, only 40% of Lower Sixth boys said that they would get support if they needed it, 14% saying that they definitely would not. After the assembly, 74% of boys said that they would now seek support.

And this did happen – because of the hugely increased demand on the Sixth Form’s Pastoral Manager, counsellors are now in school 2 and a half days a week.

On a more personal level, the day after the assembly, a boy in my year came up to me and said “thank you for delivering the assembly, I’ve finally managed to see Mrs Ingram about what I’m going through”.

This shows that being given personal accounts, to which young people – and especially boys – can relate, does actually work and encourages them to get help.

Gabe – Upper Sixth Student and Mental Health Ambassador – Beechen Cliff School
January 2019 

Newbridge and St Stephen’s case study

Josh, Ben and Daniel from Newbridge Primary School

“Exploring Gender Differences”

Josh, Daniel and Ben , Year 6 Pupils at Newbridge Primary School and Finn from St Stephen’s Primary School were involved in the Boys in Mind Film Project . The boys, their parents and teacher discuss the impact   of the film they made as well as the wider Boys in Mind Strategy.”

 

What were you pleased to notice following the film project? 

  • My confidence was boosted (Ben) 
  • You realise you’re not the only one that is having problems (Josh) 
  • It’s been great to be involved (Daniel) 
  • I liked that it wasn’t just boys it was girls too (Finn)
  • I liked the useful information from the other films for older pupils (Ben) 
  • People are a bit happier to talk about stuff (Daniel) 
  • The message we got across that you’re not the only one and things will get better (Ben) 
  • It’s making people feel like they’re part of the world (Finn)
Finn from St. Stephen's Primary School

Scaling for confidence – Where were you before and where did you move to?

  • My confidence was boosted (Ben) 
  • You realise you’re not the only one that is having problems (Josh) 
  • It’s been great to be involved (Daniel) 
  • I liked that it wasn’t just boys it was girls too (Finn)
  • I liked the useful information from the other films for older pupils (Ben) 
  • People are a bit happier to talk about stuff (Daniel) 
  • The message we got across that you’re not the only one and things will get better (Ben) 
  • It’s making people feel like they’re part of the world (Finn)

Scaling for confidence – Where were you before and where did you move to?

Daniel 3 to 7 

Josh 3 to 8 

Ben 3 or 4 to 8 

Finn 4 to 9

Daniel, Ben and Josh

What are your hopes for the future?

To make people feel confident about who they are (Ben) 

To get Boys in Mind known about locally, nationally and internationally (Daniel) 

Eventually people will think it’s Ok for boys to cry (Josh)

Someone from Boys in Mind becoming a doctor who can help boys and girls too. (Finn) 

The world can be a big happier place where no-one is upset (Ben) 

People treat boys with total equality (Daniel) 

Boys and girls get treated with the same amount of sympathy (Josh) 

More people not being ill of their mind and everyone being free of the illness of their mind (Finn)

Daniel, Josh and Ben
Newbridge Primary School pupils Daniel, Josh and Ben

Quotes from teachers and parents.

“I’ve noticed the 3 boys seem happier being who they are.  Jim, (their teacher)

 “The Boys in Mind project has been such a positive experience for Josh – it has really improved his confidence, and given him the tools to communicate about how he feels, without worrying about what others might think about it. The biggest contribution to this was hearing it modelled by the older boys in the project, hearing their stories and the way mental health has impacted their lives. I was really surprised at how willing he was to be in the films and on the panel, and I think he was surprised about how positive the feedback has been” Hannah (Josh’s mum)

“I feel very proud of what he has done and how well he spoke about what it is to be a boy. The whole project is amazing . Getting anyone to talk about mental health is hard. It’s even harder when it’s boys, so inspiring young boys to talk about their feelings is immense. For Daniel it has been great and has given him such great role models to look up to, Boys who are able to talk about their feelings and are not afraid of what people will say.”  Jo (Daniel’s mum) 

“Boys in Mind, Girls Mind Too has been an important project for us to be involved in and I have been touched by the stories that the young people have shared. Being part of Boys in Mind has given Ben a good understanding of the mental health needs of boys, but also that he is great just the way he is. We still have our moments, but he has more confidence and is coping much better. And I know he hopes many others can benefit in the same way. Thank you.” Amanda (Ben’s mum) 

“Finn has been so proud of himself and enjoyed talking about the project to friends and family. He seems more able to talk about his feelings and know that it’s ok to show vulnerability.”  Finn’s parents

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