Students jumped on board a big yellow American school bus during a week of activities to improve their mental health and wellbeing ahead of their exams.
The bus from the Zen Project arrived at Westminster Kingsway College, as colleges across Capital City College Group marked Mental Health Awareness Week from 9-15 May.
According to the charity Mental Health UK, which is behind the annual awareness week, one in four people in the UK has experienced a mental health problem.
The Zen Project has converted the bus into a mobile studio where students could participate in breathing and meditation exercises and other relaxation techniques.
WestKing student Muhaned Nouman, 21, said: “The exams are now very near and I’m starting to feel a bit anxious. You study for the whole year and you’re scared that it could all be written-off in one paper and you won’t get the grades you deserve.
“Today has been really good at helping us all get away from that pressure. The breathing exercises on the bus made me feel very relaxed and have taken some of my worries away. My mind is a lot clearer and focused. I feel a lot more positive now.”
Students also took part in ‘Talk and Chill’ sessions, that included therapeutic workshops hosted by qualified psychotherapists and tips for managing exam stress.
Other workshops were run by Catch22, which provides practical and emotional support to young people and their families, and online mental health company Kooth.
WestKing music students performed live at the event, which also provided students with information about support available at the college.
City and Islington College (CANDI) ran sessions, around this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme of loneliness and the college held workshops for their students on exam stress, social anxiety and emotional resilience.
Students also took part in mindfulness activities including kindness rock making, and writing and designing colourful messages, which were then tied to trees to inspire their peers.
There was also a ‘Chat and Chillax’, ‘OK 2 Talk’, motivation, creative, meditation and safe space drop-in session and various physical activities including football, canoeing, box-fit and yoga.
CANDI student Rebecca Lynch, 16, recalled how her mental health had deteriorated during lockdown, making her feel alone and unable to share how she was feeling with family and friends.
She said: “I felt down and not in good place. I couldn’t even go out to clear my head. I was also home-schooled and didn’t have many friends and often felt left out because they all went to the same school.
“I’ve got exams coming up but I’m not stressing out as I used to, because at the end of the day they don’t define who you are as a person. Failing an exam is not the end of your life, you can always come back from that. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter, it’s just not as big a deal as it’s made out to be.
“The college has facilities to help you. Whether you use them or not, they’re always there. I feel they really do put students first and that mental health is top priority over academic success.”
Students at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) took part in mental health workshops at the college run by Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust.
The college regularly runs these workshops, with more than 300 students participating so far this year.
CONEL student Cameron Barrall, 16, said: “Growing up it’s not seen as normal for boys and men to open up about their feelings and suffer in silence, and when you do people are like ‘Get over it, get a grip, cheer up,’ but saying things like that just makes it worse.
“If I’m struggling with something, I just go out and want to be by myself and don’t feel like I need anyone around me, but sometimes that is more difficult and it can help to talk to a family member or someone close to you who you can trust.”
‘I started my own mindfulness business after battling depression’
CONEL student Amaya Agdomar, 45, started her own business Sacr3d Butt3rfly after facing her own mental health battle with anxiety and depression. She organises mindfulness walks and activities in Epping Forest to lift people’s spirits through an appreciation of nature. The threes in Sacr3d Butt3rfly refer to mind, body and spirit.
“There were times when if the NHS hadn’t been there I would found life very difficult. They helped me through and because of that I wanted to start a business helping people who’ve been in my situation in a place with people who care. I was going into Epping Forest myself and feeling all the benefits that have helped with my recovery.”
Nearly 300 students at CONEL have also taken part in Soft Skills For Wellbeing workshops run by the Barrier Breakers Foundation, a charity which helps disadvantaged young people develop skills to reach their potential and enrich their lives.
This week the college also hosted a stand providing information on mental health services available across Haringey, run by Haringey Council, Haringey Mind and the NHS.
All CCCG colleges have trained and dedicated staff and resources to provide information, advice and guidance to support students with a wide range of mental health issues.
Find out more about Student Support and Wellbeing.