Project Write-Up

Mental Health Champions

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.

What are Mental Health Champions?

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 Role of Mental Health Champions

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.

Benefits of Having Mental Health Champions in Schools

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.

Free Resource

Wellbeing Ambassadors Cheat Sheet

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Mental Health Champions Project Introduction

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.

Commissioners Identified Needs

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.

Mental Health Champions Project Delivery

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.

Mental Health Champions Training

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.

Tools for Healthy Minds

Mental Health Champions Project Outcomes

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.”

  • 71% of Programme Coordinators planned to run the programme again the following year
  • 88% of the Mental Health Champions said they would be very or extremely likely to recommend the programme to a friend.

Free Resource

Wellbeing Ambassadors Impact Report

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Mental Health Champion Project Impacts

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:

  • “With our work done in our school to raise awareness of mental health and to release the stigma from having a mental health illness, I believe that the younger students in this school have a better understanding of this subject and can feel more comfortable with their feelings. we have shown them that there is an option for help, which I think is a big impact on students and peers.”
  • “It has given a solid and permanent base for mental health support.”
  • “We hope that we have given information to other students about who they can talk to (especially in college) if they are struggling with their mental health. I think the events have also helped remind other students about the importance of keeping a good mental health during stressful periods such as exams.”
  • “Through the training I learnt a lot about mental health, and through the activities we planned I gained a lot of confidence, and also it adds something special to my CV and university applications.”
  • The help and training from mental health champions was different from any other thing I have been doing, so it was definitely an experience for me to work with mental health related projects throughout school, although I believe we could've done more to get the name of MHC out to every student.”
  • About positive mental health and what this entails; The feeling of goodness and happiness that I have had a chance to spread awareness of this topic; Learnt about the other resources; How to set up events like stalls and lounges etc.; How to engage with others to get them to look at what you’re doing.”
  • “It's a really beneficial project that can be modelled to suit the place it's happening and the events happening. For example, we did the lounge thing near exams to give people a break. It has such potential to grown into a big great movement. What was needed as mental health can be hard whilst in education and a lot goes on growing up.”

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 staff seem more aware of mental health needs. Students have reduced the stigma associated with mental health. Staff wellbeing policy has been updated. Increase in confidence and coping skills for the MHCs.”
  • The MHCs have grown in confidence and the MHCs who have now been part of the project for 2 years have been more proactive and able to plan events more independently this year.”
  • On each campaign completed, there is a wider conversation on Mental health across college. The MHCs are now becoming a known part of the college environment.”
  • “Our Logo and our 8-point campaign being recognised not only across the school but also across the community; A large number of yr.7 and yr.8 students using the weekly drop is sessions to work on building self-esteem and gaining skills whilst making friends; Promoting positive Mental Health across the school; A number of students using our signposting notice boards to get the help and support they need and seeing evidence of this; Students who find it difficult to seek help, using our self-help shelf; The champions receiving the recognition they deserve for their continuous hard work; Other students signposting their friends to our sessions for support or asking how they can be a supportive friend; The MHC campaign now being a significant part of our school community. shown in newsletter, on the school website and the official school handbook.”
  • “This was an additional layer of support available to the students and peer on peer is always the best!”
  • “Students were actively interested in becoming MHCs, showing a good response to supporting the wider student mental health and wellbeing.”
  • “One poignant moment was when we were invited to speak at the annual event with Papyrus - Suicide Awareness, one of the champions was incredibly conscious of speaking aloud due to his own person struggles but was adamant to overcome this for this cause in particular. He began to say his own written thoughts but soon started to struggle. In that moment every one of our 9 MHCs came together and began to read his words with him. If I could sum up their kindness, their whole cause, their deep desire for change - this would be it!”

The students who had been trained as Wellbeing Ambassadors also found the experience a positive one:

  • “I mentored 5 individuals and they all experienced the mentoring differently. One of them was very reliant during and after the sessions. I built a positive relationship with all of them and they were all able to come to the sessions and open up and talk about experiences.”
  • I've learned to speak in a specific way that won't make the peer feel uncomfortable/ judged. I learned not to push someone into talking about something that they may not wish to talk about.”
  • “I am being more open about my feelings to others and learning to deal with difficult situations better.”
  • It has helped me see things from a different perspective and put myself in the shoes of another so that I can help them as much as possible. I also feel that I have learnt how to deal with different types of situations in a more sensible manner. Finally, having a positive impact on someone who needs support, has helped me to become more positive about things myself and try to find something good out of everything that doesn't go to plan- including being able to improvise and adapt things.”

The Programme Coordinators were asked, what impacts have you noticed the programme having so far on the younger Peers who received support?

  • “More confidence around the school. Happier coming into school.”
  • “They feel special. They like the time they have with their mentor. Several have asked for the sessions to continue and the mentors have agreed to continue to meet the students.”
  • “More confidence in and around school, better decisions re: behaviour and communication when behaviour issues/ uncertainty occurs in school.”
  • “The younger peers have grown in confidence throughout the process with one of the year 7 students speaking in front of 40 trainee teachers about the wellbeing programme and what she got out of it!”

Find Out More and Next Steps

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.