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Warwick Academy puts students’ mental health in the spotlight

Warwick Academy school counsellors Heidi Smith, head of the department, left, with Don Vickers (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

The mental health of Bermuda’s young people is under increasing strain even as pandemic hardships ease, a school counsellor has warned.

The remarks came as Warwick Academy joins the global recognition of mental awareness month tomorrow to help students, staff and the broader community.

Heidi Smith, head of the school’s counselling department, said the month’s activities were driven in part by a rise in need at Warwick Academy as well as other schools and the rest of the island’s population.

“Mental health is our next crisis,” she said. “That’s what we are seeing worldwide, and we’re definitely feeling it here.

“Even though the Covid drama is starting to drop, that’s not what is being seen with mental health, and the plain reason is that mental health can be hard to manage.”

Ms Smith said that after two years under a pandemic, young people’s mental wellbeing was contending with a string of issues from social media and the prevalence of screen-based technology to anxieties over war raging in Ukraine.

Don Vickers, a fellow counsellor at the school, said pandemic conditions had taken a toll on counsellors as well.

“I was definitely feeling the residual impact from being locked up for two years,” Mr Vickers said. “We are seeing the manifestations, and now the culmination of these manifestations, from acute to not so acute.

“Part of this month is to enhance awareness and to have genuine understanding and comfort around dealing with mental health.”

Both counsellors said stress and isolation had frayed the nerves of students, staff and parents.

Commuters tomorrow will be greeted by students for the launch of the month’s activities.

The school is a longstanding participant in the Erica’s Lighthouse Programme, which assists students in helping support one another with their mental health.

With green as the colour of mental health awareness month, a green-themed grub day will help raise funds for a student support fund to aid families in covering the cost of psychological services, Ms Smith said.

The month comes with a screening of the documentary Screenagers on the pitfalls of growing up in the digital age.

It will close with a video made by the school highlighting the month’s efforts.

Ms Smith said: “We’re hoping simply to talk more, to empower each other to get help, and — not to sound cliché — to say that sometimes it’s OK not to be OK.”

Mr Vickers said the work in the classroom could have a knock-on effect at home and in the community.

He added: “We can be a beacon of hope for our own kids to follow.”