January 4, 2023
Mental health champions in schools are a force for positive change in a school or college setting. The Mental Health Champion (MHC) Programme has been training young people to provide peer support, develop tools for positive mental health, and increase access to early support. These volunteer students help reduce stigma, create connection and belonging, and promote awareness of mental health issues. Let’s take a closer look at how MHCs can benefit students and teachers alike.
Mental Health Champions are young people aged 11-18 who have received specialised training on how to identify signs of distress in their peers and create an inclusive culture within the school setting. They are selected by their peers or teachers because they have the skills necessary to lead conversations around mental health with empathy and understanding.
Once trained, these individuals become advocates for wellbeing – encouraging others to talk openly about their experiences with mental health issues, providing support when needed, and even running events that promote self-care activities such as ways of developing resilience building, self-awareness sessions or running peer-support sessions.
The work of mental health champions is varied but all championing strategies revolve around promoting open discussion about mental health issues among young people. This could be through delivering assemblies on the importance of self-care; creating campaigns that raise awareness about depression; leading workshops on anxiety management; or running lunchtime groups where students can discuss their feelings in a safe environment.
Allowing students to share stories in this way helps reduce stigma and encourages them to seek professional help if required. It’s also important that MHCs have access to ongoing training so they can continue developing their knowledge around mental health topics such as suicide prevention or eating disorders awareness.
Mental Health Champions bring real value to schools – both staff members and students report feeling more supported as a result of having these dedicated individuals available throughout the day.
Not only do they act as role models for other pupils but also ensure that everyone feels seen and heard within the school community. Furthermore, having MHCs in place allows teachers to focus more on teaching rather than dealing with any emotional issues that may arise during class time – meaning pupils can get back into learning sooner rather than later!
Finally, having regular conversations about wellbeing what it is and how to improve it helps normalise discussions around mental health – breaking down barriers between students while raising awareness among those who may not know much about it yet.
This article provides an in-depth review of the Mental Health Champions programme delivered by City of York Council in 2018. Before we explore the project and its impact we will first cover what a mental health champion is and how they can help support school or college mental health and wellbeing.
In this example, the Mental Health Champions are students or pupils in schools. Schools may also have staff Mental Health Champions they may lead staff wellbeing projects that prevent staff stress and support wellbeing.
The City of York Council commissioned Worth-it Positive Education CIC to work in partnership with the School Wellbeing Service to develop a peer support programme, to provide young person led early intervention and prevention within different settings including schools and colleges.
This project was known as Mental Health Champions (MHC) and was developed and delivered in schools across York. This article provides a case study of effective practice in early intervention and prevention.
In 2018, it was identified that York would benefit from the provision of youth-led, peer support to improve young people’s wellbeing, develop mental health and provide early prevention of mental health problems. This was supported by the York City Council Youth Council who were included in programme development and procurement. The programme was very voice-led, even in the procurement stages: we pitched to a panel that included the young people who had developed the brief and specification which went to tender.
The MHC Programme sought to train young people to provide positive support to peers and help them learn ways to improve wellbeing through developing tools for healthy minds.
Worth-it Positive Education CIC was commissioned to deliver training to trainers – who would be the Mental Health Champion Coordinators – from eight Secondary Schools and two Further Education Colleges to enable MHC coordinators to return to their settings and train young people to provide support to their peers in the shape of informal intervention, lunchtime drop-ins and campaigns.
We combined coaching psychology and positive psychology techniques to produce a Mental Health Champions programme. This included 4 days of training for the MHC facilitators by our consultants, creation of resources for MHC coordinators and student MHCs. Once trained, the MHC coordinators delivered the programme in their own settings, using the coaching skills they’d learned and the resources we supplied.
The programme was managed and coordinated by a trained MHC Coordinator within each setting and supported by School Wellbeing Service Workers and other trained colleagues.
A group of young people were recruited in each setting to attend a three-day mental health champion training course led by the setting’s MHC coordinator.
During the mental health champion training, the student Mental Health Champions received coaching around skills that support peer wellbeing and tools that develop healthy minds and how to run mental health campaigns.
The aim for the training was that the MHCs would design and run their own campaigns to meet the needs of their peers and be appropriate for their setting. These projects would focus on raising awareness of mental health and signposting to support in their settings.
MHC Programme Coordinators and student MHCs were invited to complete written end of programme feedback evaluations.
The Mental Health Champions ran and developed initiatives in their schools and settings to increase awareness of mental health and where support could be found, reduce any stigma around discussion of mental health and help their peers understand the importance of wellbeing.
For example, in one school the MHCs were involved in “creating a quiet safe space for students; talking in year group assemblies, bake sales; creating posters and cards; mentoring for younger students who are struggling.”
In another setting, the MHCs organised a college-wide awareness day of random acts of kindness: “where we created a sort of 'peg' system where positive messages were written on pegs and distributed around the college, amongst many other activities. We also set up a public living room to provide a safe and calm environment for students.”
Following the programme, the Mental Health Champions were asked what impacts the Mental Health Champions Programme had, what they appreciated about the programme, what their biggest achievements and successes were [from the MHC programme] and how other students had benefitted. Their responses were overwhelmingly positive:
Explore these impacts in greater detail by downloading our Wellbeing Ambassadors Impact Report.
The Mental Health Coordinators were asked the same questions as the student MHCs. Again, there was an overwhelmingly positive response. Across all settings, the implementation of campaigns, projects and support by the MHCs had a school-wide impact, indicating a major culture shift in the way schools embrace discussions around mental health and wellbeing.
The students who had been trained as Wellbeing Ambassadors also found the experience a positive one:
The Programme Coordinators were asked, what impacts have you noticed the programme having so far on the younger Peers who received support?
The role of Mental Health Champions is essential in creating a safe school environment where young people feel supported mentally, emotionally and socially. It is clear that Mental Health Champions have the power to make a real difference in improving the overall wellbeing of students – they promote early access to support services, foster connection and belonging amongst peers as well as reducing stigma surrounding mental illness – all incredibly valuable skills that will benefit students throughout their life journey!
The Mental Health Champions programme lead to the development of our Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme. Download our free Wellbeing Ambassadors Cheat Sheet to find out how you could set up a student lead early intervention programme in your school or setting.
As we continue working towards better supporting our young people’s emotional needs it is becoming increasingly important that schools consider having Mental Health Champions as part of their team – it could make all the difference!
If you are interested in running a Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme in your school or setting go to our Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme free webinar to find out more.
This Example is currently being worked on. Be sure to check back soon!
Feel free to ask our team about this project for more information or return to our Examples page to learn about other great results our schools and settings are seeing.