How can we help teenagers and adults alike understand that mental health matters, and encourage an open discussion around it? What tools do teenagers need to cope with the physical and emotional changes and challenges in their lives? These questions, though always important, became more prominent when looking at the results of a survey we conducted at Futuraskolan International School of Stockholm, aiming to explore the relationship between achievement and well-being among middle schoolers.
The responses expected: the older the learners, the higher the stress levels they reported, and this was often accompanied by poor sleeping habits and increased exposure to social media. However, the results of the survey also told another story, one that we often forget about. Teenagers have a hard time talking to adults about their feelings; they either think they might be a burden on their parents, or that adults might not take them seriously.
Looking for ways to address these issues, it was clear that the action plan should not only involve teachers, the school counsellor, and the leadership team but most importantly, learners. This was something we also realised at the end of the last academic year when considering how to navigate the new reality facing schools. In preparation for World Mental Health Day, two dynamic Grade 9 learners took the initiative to raise awareness about mental health in our middle school and encouraged others to join a student Wellness Committee! Through videos, further surveys, and interactive activities, the learner-leaders of our committee have taken action to help us answer the questions posed at the start of this article.
Among their many creative and meaningful ideas, two should be highlighted. The first was the introduction of the Safe Place App, designed by Save the Children Sweden (Rädda Barnen), and a plan to integrate it into all classes. What the app offered was a structured way to incorporate breathing, calming exercises, brain breaks, and stretching when needed in lessons. Learners of the Wellness Committee visited every middle school class and demonstrated ways teachers and students can use the app in class and at home. Most importantly, they encouraged their peers to reflect, identify their needs, and be open with teachers when they feel overwhelmed or simply need a brain break!
This was followed up by weeks of working on our upcoming Brain Awareness Week, which will mark the start of the Spring Term at our school. Our Wellness Committee volunteered to plan activities for their peers, ranging from yoga, mindfulness sessions, and power naps, to finger knitting, origami, and games about the brain. The collaboration, organisation, decision-making, and enthusiasm they demonstrated were a reminder of why listening to student voices and giving them agency is so important in fostering a healthy and forward-thinking school culture.
“Mental health is a universal human right” was the theme the World Health Organisation decided on in 2023, in celebration of World Mental Health Day. By prioritising mental health and wellbeing this year, and by taking the time to drive actions that promote it, we are hoping to continue creating a safe and open environment where adolescents understand the changes they are undergoing, realise the importance of talking about their emotions, and graduate with the tools and strategies to cope with the challenges of an ever-changing world.