Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. To mark the occasion, students and staff at Les Roches Crans-Montana took time out to think – and talk – about this important topic. We look back on the day’s events, as well as previewing a more comprehensive and holistic mental health and wellbeing strategy now being rolled out across the school.
Of all the most difficult, stigmatized and taboo-ridden topics to open up about, mental health has historically sat near the top. But times are – thankfully – changing; particularly when it comes to children and young people.
As our pictures show, students and staff were not shy to come forward and take part in activities around World Mental Health Day. The main lobby area at Crans-Montana campus was taken over by a variety of stands dedicated to raising awareness about issues connected with mental health (such as addiction), with these messages amplified by an e-newsletter produced ahead of the day.
The undoubted highlights of the day were the three special workshops. The first delved into detail on the amazing power of laughter to promote good mental health. The second focused on the topic of resilience and stress management – particularly appropriate to a fast-paced academic environment like Les Roches. And the third and final workshop looked at how we as humans can make better connections with each other, as well as to our own inner selves.
Putting the day’s program together was a labor of love for Les Roches’ Head of Health & Wellbeing, Angela Koekebakker. Appointed to this role in April, Angela brings more than two decades’ frontline experience of psychiatry and mental health, having previously worked as a psychiatric nurse, teacher and head of a long-stay psychiatric ward.
“I hope that everyone who took part will have come away feeling more comfortable with this topic,” says Angela.
[quote]There’s so much more that can be done to prevent people reaching the point where they become mentally ill. And that’s why we wanted to come at things from a very positive angle – to make sure people think a little more positively about maintaining good mental health.[/quote]
Taking the lead
As you’ll recall from the feature on her we published earlier this year, mental health & wellbeing is a topic very close to the heart of Les Roches’ Dean of Students, Andrea Chakravartti. Having previewed a new, institution-wide health & wellbeing strategy in that earlier piece, Andrea is now able to shed more light on the school’s plans to help everyone on campus maintain good mental health.
“It is important to remember that we already possess very caring and close-knit communities on all our campuses. These are also environments that foster healthy, active lifestyles, which are good for our wellbeing,” Andrea explains. “So our future health & wellbeing strategy, which is now taking shape, is all about building on these positive strengths. Our aim is to increase the knowledge and skills that everyone on campus – students and staff – need to help themselves, and others, to become more resilient.”
The five pillars for the new strategy are:
- Access to effective services for all
- Increasing knowledge of – and skills in – self-regulatory mechanisms
- Spreading greater awareness of mental health issues across the entire institution
- Putting structures in place for a fully supportive environment
- Forging closer connections to topics around wellbeing within the academic curriculum
“We’re taking an all-institution approach with this, and because it’s part of our strategic priorities as a school, we need to get it right. So we’re still working on the details, but the strategic foundation is there and we’ll be ready to kick into gear in 2020,” says Andrea.
One piece at a time
One initiative that’s already underway is training selected students and staff to act as mental health first aid responders. Though still in the pilot phase, Angela Koekebakker sees the potential of having specially-trained people who can speak to others at a peer level. “With something like mental health, it can be important to have someone to talk to who is your own age; who maybe understands better where you are coming from culturally and who you can speak to in your mother tongue,” she says.
In the coming months, the school is also working to expand the network of specialist practitioners who visit the campuses to provide services to students and staff. A third initiative currently in progress, and one which excites both Andrea and Angela, is the rollout of an e-health application, which will cover both physical and mental health.
Andrea says, “There are some fantastic products out there and we’re still assessing which one might be best for us. But whichever product we choose will have to have a strong mental health component.”
For Angela, society’s current progress in de-stigmatizing mental health issues is a sign of a more positive future. “When I started in this profession in 1996, mental health was something we simply didn’t talk about. Now it’s different, and society is much more aware. As professionals, we are also constantly evolving how we see this topic. I know my own feelings about mental health have evolved a huge amount in recent years.
“I think in the future we’ll see a very different approach to psychiatry, which will make things achievable that weren’t possible 20 to 25 years ago. That’s why I’m so pleased to come here to Les Roches – it’s such an interesting, international environment. And having spent so many years working with acute mental illness, it is great to be able to work together with the students on positive steps to prevent people reaching the stage where psychiatric disorders can strike.
“It’s fascinating from a professional perspective – it’s the best job in the world.”