Teachers and school staff play a vital role in supporting the mental health of their pupils. However, they cannot be expected to do this alone. peer mentoring can be an effective way of providing support to pupils with mental health issues, and can help to create a more positive and inclusive culture within schools.

What is peer mentoring?

Peer mentoring is a form of support where pupils are matched with a mentor who is similar to them in age, gender, ethnicity, and/or background. The mentor provides support to the mentee on a one-to-one basis, offering guidance and advice on a range of issues including academics, social life, and wellbeing.

Peer mentoring has been shown to be an effective intervention for mental health support in schools. A study by the University of Sussex found that peer mentors had a positive impact on the mental health of both the mentors and the mentees, with benefits including improved self-esteem, increased empathy, and reduced anxiety levels. Peer mentoring can also help to build resilience and coping skills in young people. These are similar to the findings we have discovered with our own peer mentoring intervention wellbeing ambassadors. You can find out more by downloading our FREE impact report.

Why is peer mentoring important for mental health?

Mental health problems are common in young people, with around 1 in 6 children and young people aged 5-16 years old experiencing a diagnosable mental health problem. It is estimated that half of all lifetime mental health problems start by the age of 14 years old. These statistics highlight the importance of early intervention and support for mental health in young people.

Peer mentors can provide practical and emotional support to pupils who are struggling with a lack of strategies for mental health. They can offer guidance on how to cope with difficult emotions and situations, signpost young people to appropriate sources of support, and act as a sounding board for ideas and concerns. As well as being beneficial for those who receive mentoring, peer mentoring can also have a positive impact on the mentors themselves; helping them to develop leadership skills, empathy, and confidence.

Mental Health Mentors Support Wellbeing

In 2017, Worth-it collaborated with Bedford CAMHS and 6 secondary schools to deliver our school-based mental health peer mentoring programme, Wellbeing Ambassadors.

The Wellbeing Ambassadors programme provided a unique opportunity to apply evidence-based techniques and strategies that improve wellbeing, through peer to peer support and mentoring. The programme applied several highly effective approaches proven to improve the wellbeing of young people, by combing peer mentoring, peer coaching and applied positive psychology to develop the wellbeing of both the Wellbeing Ambassadors and the peers they mentor.

Working with CAMHS and Mental Health Support Teams to develop peer mentoring

The Department for Education funded CAMHS school link pilots (now known as Mental Health Support Teams), local young people in Bedford identified a need for the provision of early support to improve their wellbeing and prevent mental health problems developing.

East London NHS Foundation Trust responded by commissioning Worth-it to work in partnership with Bedford CAMHS school link service to develop a Peer to Peer support programme, providing young person lead peer mentoring based early intervention and prevention within schools.

This project helped develop our current Wellbeing Ambassadors programme and was piloted in 6 schools across Bedfordshire who worked in partnership with Bedfordshire CAMHS school link team, Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire early help team.

This project will positively impact on young people in Bedfordshire schools, providing early prevention that improves wellbeing through peer mentoring over the next three years.

Read more about the project and outcomes or download our Wellbeing Ambassadors Impact Report

Peer mentoring for wellbeing in schools

As well as working with Local Authority and NHS multi-agency teams, the Wellbeing Ambassador Programme is being delivered within 6 Bedfordshire schools.

  • Manshead School
  • Samuel Whitbread Academy
  • Bedford Academy
  • Kempston Challenger Academy
  • Sharnbrook Upper School
  • St Thomas More

These schools are training a cohort or year 12 students to become wellbeing ambassadors who will improve the wellbeing of younger peers.

If you are a teacher or school staff member who is looking for ways to support the mental health of your pupils, then consider implementing a peer mentoring scheme within your school. Peer mentors can provide invaluable support to young people struggling with their mental health, and can help to create a more positive school culture overall.

Wellbeing outcomes through peer mentoring

The programme provides an ‘upstream’ early intervention designed to prevent mental health problems developing by equipping young people with confidence, interpersonal skills, thinking skills and improving self-awareness. This way of working enhances wellbeing and a sense of belonging to school which promotes attendance and reduces incidents of unhelpful behaviour in the Wellbeing Ambassadors and the peers they support.

Other benefits can include improved engagement, improved sense of belonging and connection, academic achievement and a reduction in bullying incidents across the school. Peer support programmes are also an important component of a whole school approach to mental health.

How does peer mentoring and being a Wellbeing Ambassador improve wellbeing?

Peer support is associated with many positive outcomes for both the Wellbeing Ambassador and the peer they are supporting.

The Wellbeing Ambassador develops their wellbeing through:

  • Volunteering to be involved
  • Participation in the Wellbeing Ambassador workshop where they practice skill for developing wellbeing
  • Learning new skills that improve wellbeing
  • Developing themselves to role model wellbeing
  • Applying those skills through supporting peers formally or informally
  • Running informal support programmes for peers such as lunch time drop-in sessions, friendship groups and wellbeing activities
  • Building confidence and self-awareness

The peer develops wellbeing through:

  • The supportive relationship provided by the Wellbeing Ambassador who role models wellbeing and provides a supportive trusting relationship
  • Through feeling they belong to school and have a positive relationships with other young people.
  • Learning skills and strategies to develop wellbeing that are shared by Wellbeing Ambassadors
  • Practising skills for wellbeing in the support sessions with their peer mentor as well is in every day life at school or home

How has the Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme developed since then?

Over the last 7 years our wellbeing Ambassadors programme has evolved. The programme has been delivered in over 125 schools and settings.

Instead of focusing on the formal peer mentoring that we did with the Bedford Schools and Bedford CAMHS Wellbeing Ambassadors has become a peer to peer support positive education programme. This means the support provided is more informal than offering one-to-one peer mentoring which can often be a logistical challenge to get organised in a school. Especially for busy and overwhelmed pastoral staff often running these interventions

Research by the Anna Freud Center found that for a government-funded peer mentoring programme they piloted did not reach the young people it was designed to support. That although the mentor gained a lot from becoming a peer mentor, schools found it hard to engage younger mentees in the intervention. We also found this with early versions of our peer coaching and peer mentoring programme and therefore adapted our Wellbeing Ambassador Programme to meet school needs and be engaging for young people and primary schools.

Peer Mentor Training

The Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme now uses more informal coaching and mentoring techniques, such as listening, being responsible and supportive.

The Wellbeing Ambassador Programme is a peer mentor training programme that trains young people in core wellbeing skills so that they can support their peers. The programme focuses on developing skills for coping with stress and reducing low level mental health issues, as well as increasing access to wellbeing support.

The most important thing about the Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme is that after they are trained they then lead the programme to support their peers. The Wellbeing Ambassadors identify the problems other young people are facing that impact on their wellbeing, and develop and ways that reduce the negative effect of these issues for their peers.

The programme trains teachers or practitioners to run a training workshop for Wellbeing Ambassadors. Teachers learn how to run the programme by accessing an online train-the-trainer toolkit. The toolkit provides schools and settings with the resources they need to deliver the programme themselves. Wellbeing Ambassadors is designed to be engaging and fun, and to provide young people with the skills they need to support their peers.

How Wellbeing Ambassadors Make a Difference to their Peers

Once trained young people lead a variety of wellbeing initiatives in their school or setting. These vary depending on what the Ambassadors themselves have identified as key priorities to improve peer wellbeing.

Initiatives lead by Wellbeing Ambassadors in other schools or settings have included

     

In doing this the Ambassadors are sharing what really matters to them to support peer wellbeing and champion mental health. In doing so they are supporting the prevention of the onset of more serious mental health problems for their peers.

How are Wellbeing Ambassadors Trained?

The Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme is delivered within a school usually over an academic year. The programme has been designed to work within a busy school calendar. We have developed the Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme into a online course and programme of digital resources schools can use over three academic years.

Within the Wellbeing Ambassadors Digital Programme, you’ll find everything you need to deliver the programme within your school or setting:

  • Online training for the Facilitator
  • In-depth instruction manual for the Programme Facilitator
  • Downloadable Wellbeing Ambassador Workbooks
  • Promotional Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme poster
  • Ambassador recruitment application forms
  • PowerPoint presentation with embedded video clips
  • Facilitators CPD Attendance certificate
  • Editable Ambassadors Workshop Attendance Certificate
  • School programme certification certificate for your reception
  • Facilitator hotline drop-in sessions and troubleshooting
  • Examples and best practice from other schools

Run Peer Mentoring for Mental Health in Your School

Schools and settings we work with find our online Wellbeing Ambassadors programme provides them with the confidence, resources and information they need to quickly get a Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme up and running, without re-inventing the wheel! Learn more by accessing our FREE Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme information webinar inside our Wellbeing Academy online learning platform.

We hope you can support the young people in your school gain from the benefits of a Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme. To find out more about the Wellbeing Ambassadors programme and find out if it is something you would like to set up then check out our Wellbeing Ambassadors Cheat sheet download.

If you are interested in learning more about the impact of a Wellbeing Ambassadors programme then down load our Wellbeing Ambassadors Impact Report

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