“The stigma with mental health has been taken away”.
Those are the words of Kirkcaldy High School pupil Amber Thomson who has been helping teachers support pupils who are struggling with their mental health.
Wellbeing plays an important part of school life and has helped pupils overcome tragic losses and change, as well as those struggling to make friends.
Alongside Amber, S5 pupils Samuel Michie, Eilidh Jackson, Robbie Somerville and Emily Dowling were appointed as mental health ambassadors to influence how the school tackle these issues.
It is a role they are proud of and their presence in the school is clear, with almost every corner of the school building filled with messages of hope and inclusivity.
Working to leave ‘lasting impact’
The 16-year-olds are working with experts from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) to champion mental health by encouraging their peers to seek help.
Samuel said their role is to act as a middle ground for children who do not feel comfortable speaking to a teacher – they are a safe place to turn.
“Some pupils in the school may feel frightened or scared to tell a teacher and are worried about what’s going to happen.
“We want to be there for them and be someone they can look up to and if they have any problems, they’d know to come to us.”
Robbie, who was delighted at being offered the leadership role, said he hopes their efforts will leave a “lasting impact” on the school.
We’re able to come back and tell the school what we’ve learned and it’ll help people know how to support their friends.”
Amber and Eilidh are also working to reduce the stigma around mental health in Fife by collaborating with 34 schools as part of the council’s Our Minds Matter initiative.
Not only will they be able to learn new ideas, but they will also receive accreditation for their participation on the training programme.
“It will be a really good thing to bring back to the school because it’ll make a massive impact,” Eilidh said.
“We’re able to come back and tell the school what we’ve learned and it’ll help people know how to support their friends if they come to them with an issue.”
The school are hoping to build on the importance of wellbeing following the Covid-19 lockdown in order to help pupils address the impact of the virus.
Robbie added: “It was a stressful and difficult time not only learning from home but being isolated. It’s something none of us have done before.
“It taught us the importance of communicating, it doesn’t seem like much but it can really brighten someone’s day.”
‘It’s made a difference to my life’
The school offers a variety of sessions to help pupils struggling, including Lego therapy, anxiety and bereavement management classes and groups where pupils can make new friends.
Cameron Hamilton, 16, is one of the pupils who needed a place to turn after a near fatal car accident left his mum badly injured.
The peer support officers invited him to attend a 10-week Seasons For Growth group which ultimately helped him address the change occurring as a result of the traumatic ordeal.
He said: “It took quite a while for it to settle in and Seasons For Growth actually helped me take control of my feelings.
“It’s helped a lot with dealing with it and taking my mind off of it and I’ve made pals along the way – it’s been amazing.”
There he met 14-year-old Leon Keddie, who said the sessions “made a difference” to his life after he sought support for a family bereavement.
“I was roughly 11 years old when my grandad unfortunately passed away from cancer,” he said.
“I was really struggling to keep my emotions in and kind of keep it to myself.
“I was nearly crying every day in my house and it was horrible but Seasons For Growth came along and introduced themselves. They’ve helped me through a lot of stuff during my time here.
“It’s made a difference to my life, especially emotionally and handling it a lot better.”
Seasons For Growth, which aims support pupils through bereavement or changing family circumstances, also helped 15-year-old Abbie Jamieson come to terms with the loss of both her mother and father.
After the 10-week sessions, pupils are given ongoing support throughout their time at school and can visit the hub whenever they need a break.
Pupils can also join friendship groups at breaks and lunch times, where they’ll get support to make friends and overcome anxiety.