Purpose: To provide an example of how students in one school developed their own mental health initiative, facilitated by educational psychologists (EPs).
Background: Although there is increasing interest in promoting mental health and wellbeing within education, to date, the voices of young people appear to have been almost completely overlooked in the development of school-based mental health practices. This is despite increasing focus on young people’s participation; and the fact that young people are best positioned to understand the pressures of contemporary society.
Methods: This paper documents the development of a student-led mental health initiative within a high-achieving girls’ grammar school. Within this setting, students from years 8-13 who had undertaken the role of “wellbeing ambassador” worked with EPs to devise a whole-school, student-friendly mental health strategy. As the project progressed, it became evident that applying even carefully-selected adult-mental health models to school contexts might not be appropriate and that the students advocated for much more young-person friendly, innovative, contemporary and creative ways of communicating information about mental health, which avoided stigma. Furthermore, students were well-placed to identify environmental stressors and to disseminate the agreed strategy. Materials produced by the students were designed to improve access to support and to encourage dialogue and discussion about mental health.
Conclusion: Having students leading the development of a mental health strategy provided a great deal of insight for the EPs involved. Transferrable conclusions include the need to encourage greater student participation, caution over the applicability of adult models and greater use of technology or visual resources.