Good mental health is paramount for us at DGS. It plays a crucial role in the quality of our pupils’ lives. Being healthy emotionally helps our pupils to excel in all that they do. A happy child is a successful child.

Karen Stebbings is Assistant Head (Pastoral) and Head of Sixth Form at Derby Grammar School, an independent day school based in Derby which educates boys from Reception through to Sixth Form, and girls in Sixth Form. Here she talks about the importance of good emotional and mental health and how Derby Grammar School encourages this.

Ensuring that we have good emotional and mental health is paramount because it plays a crucial role in our life and impacts our thoughts, the way we behave and our emotional reactions. Being healthy emotionally can help us to be more productive and effective at work or at school. It is vitally important to the health of our relationships, and allows us to adapt to new situations and changes in our life, cope with adversity and become more resilient.

There are measures we can take to improve our mental health on a day to day basis. Small changes like taking regular exercise, eating a healthy, balanced diet, talking to people you trust about the things which worry you, having a bit of “me time”, remembering something you are grateful for and getting sufficient, quality sleep, can boost your emotional health. These actions compliment what are called the “5 ways to wellbeing” which were developed by the New Economics Foundation and were launched in October 2008.

Way 1 – Connect

There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world. Social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health for people of all ages. To make a connection you could:

  • Talk to someone instead of sending a text message or an email
  • Speak to someone new
  • Ask how someone’s day, evening or weekend was and really listen when they tell you
  • Share a lift to school or work with someone.

Our pupils are placed into tutor groups and Houses, giving them the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with pupils across the full age range of the school. Each pupil is assigned a tutor and Houses are supported by a House Master and other members of staff, giving them a range of trusted adults to confide in. The House system, in addition to our annual Speech Night and regular assemblies is the perfect environment in which to celebrate the vast array of pupil achievements. 

Way 2 – Be active

Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups and for promoting well-being. But it doesn’t need to be particularly intense exercise for you to feel good – slower-paced activities, such as walking, can have the benefit of encouraging social interactions as well providing some level of exercise. To be active you could:

  • Walk or cycle to and from school or work if it is safe to do so. 
  • Join a sports team

Derby Grammar School has a strong sporting tradition. Our pupils play rugby, hockey and cricket competitively, but we also have middle distance runners, netball players, swimmers, basketball players, tennis players, footballers, archers and dancers to name but a few amongst our pupil body. 

Way 3 – Take notice

Reminding yourself to ‘take notice’ can strengthen and broaden your awareness. Being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your well-being and savouring ‘the moment’ can help to reaffirm your life priorities. Increased awareness also enhances your self-understanding and allows you to make positive choices based on your own values and motivations. To take notice you could:

  • Take a different route on your journey to or from school or work
  • Sit with someone different at lunch.

The introduction of Forest School to our Primary aged pupils is helping them to have an increased awareness of their surroundings and also understand the importance of caring for the environment. Time spent outdoors, growing and caring for plants is excellent helping to improve the pupils’ emotional wellbeing. 

Way 4 – Learn

Continued learning through life enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life. The practice of setting goals has been strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing. Why not learn something new today?  You could:

  • Read the news or a book
  • Do a crossword or Sudoku
  • Research something you’ve always wondered about
  • Learn a new word.

Where do I start on this one? Chess club, book club, EPQ, House debating competitions, European Youth Parliament debating, foreign film club, these are just a sample of what we offer to promote co-curricular learning to boost emotional wellbeing.

Way 5 – Give

Participation in social and community activities has attracted a lot of attention in the field of wellbeing research. Individuals who help others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Undertaking an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing. To give you could:

  • Offer to help a friend or relative with something they find a challenge
  • Volunteer

We have strong links with the local YMCA and each year we support them through our harvest festival and Christmas shoebox appeals where we encourage member of the school community to donate goods to make a difference to those less fortunate than ourselves. Our Tanzania project sees Year 12 students undertaking voluntary work with our partner school, Gedeli B, in Mwanza each summer and our pupils undertaking the Duke of Edinburgh undertake 3, 6 or 12 months of volunteering depending on which award they are doing.

At Derby Grammar School we firmly believe in a holistic approach to education and we want our pupils to achieve the best grades but also be prepared for their adult life beyond the formal examined curriculum.

There is a plethora of actions that we can take to improve our overall mental health. We owe it to ourselves to look after our emotional wellbeing. It’s not just our physical health that matters!