The first thing to consider is that we are all dealing with a lot of unknowns, as of today – we do not know when school will return to on site learning for years other than Year 12.
And while we all know that it is important to focus on what we can control and try not to become anxious in the swirling ocean of unknowns, there are other ways we can protect our mental health.
Firstly, St Catherine’s has an amazing team of year mentors and wellbeing mentors who check in with students each day at roll call, and communicate with them about what is going on. But while in a physical ‘at school’ environment it would be easy to notice if a student seemed ‘flatter’ than normal, or not themselves, we do not have that visibility. As we all know, a Zoom thumbnail is not the same.
We use a program called Ripple, created by Clinical Psychologist Gregory Nicolau, to measure student wellbeing. The web based app checks student wellbeing on the measures of sleep, relaxed/stressed, focus, well fed, happy, calm, connected, healthy and safe.
The categories are:
- Well fed – how hungry they are (this can vary based on time of day, but is very rarely a concern)
- Sleep – how well they slept the night before.
- Safety – how safe are they feeling right now, this is rarely a concern at St Catherine’s.
- Friendships – how good are they feeling about their friendships at the moment
- Confidence – how confident are they feeling?
- Calmness – how calm or stressed are they?
- Concentration – how focused they are, or how well they are able to focus?
- Health – are they in good health in general (or feeling unwell).
The average responses for our students across year groups are positive, but the top three areas of concern are sleep, concentration, and focus or concentration.
Sleep continues to be the lowest response, this could be because of sleep patterns, or also the impact of fatigue around COVID-19. There are a lot of great resources on the importance of sleep for teenagers here:
- Raising Children network
- The Sleep Foundation
- Podcast episode by Dr Tim Sharp ‘Learning and remembering the need for sleep’.
But there is a clear timeline to a good night’s sleep:
Six hours before bedtime: stop consuming caffeine -this includes coffee, tea, caffeinated drinks and even chocolate (lets face it, I’m failing on that!)
Two to three hours before bedtime: Stop eating – give our body time to digest
Two hours before bedtime: stop exercising – give yourself down time
One hour before bedtime: Switch of electronics, and stop doing work
Fifteen to thirty minutes before bedtime: Get into bed and start reading (a book!)
We have also noticed a decrease in how focused they are, which we can all attest to. I have sat down to write this and become distracted far too many times. Our brains are not focusing the way they usually do, please note I have not written ‘the way they should’ because there is no should in a lockdown.
Again, the strategies here are what we know – do small amounts often, try to segment your time between school time and at home time – one student mentioned walking around the block before ‘starting school’ and ‘after school’ to have the same routine, be gentle to yourself, and do as much as you can.
However, there are some students who do present with low responses, and while it is not the same as noticing a drop in engagement in the classroom, Ripple allows wellbeing mentors to get a baseline understanding of their wellbeing in order to check in on them.
The three strongest responses in Ripple are safety, connection (or friendships), and feeling well. Friendships are an area where we are seeing consistent strength in our students however, despite lockdown. We are incredibly supportive of students’ friendships and chances to bond during class, and after school, whether it is online or going for a walk with a friend. The pandemic has changed friendships, as discussed here, and there is a focus on ‘front porch’ friends that live close by. If you feel your daughter hasn’t seen any friends during lockdown, encourage her to go for a walk with one friend, because having something to look forward to, and some social interaction, can be so important.
The school also has numerous resources that parents can access during this time. SchoolTV is a program the school subscribes to which offers very useful videos about mental health, cyber safety, healthy body, and including a special report on COVID-19 fatigue.
We are in for a few more weeks of lockdown, and it is important we all prioritise our mental health.
Ms Daisy Turnbull
Director of Wellbeing