Vicki Matthews, School of Politics, Economics and International Relations, email@example.com
Student Minds is the UK’s Student Mental Health Charity, and was RUSU’s charity of the year for 2018/19. Student Mind’s aspiration is to ensure students have the skills, knowledge and confidence to talk about their own mental health and look out for their peers. To this end they provide research-driven training and supervision to university staff to enable students to be equipped to bring about positive change on their campuses through peer support.
Throughout the higher education sector concern is being expressed that universities are witnessing a decline in the general wellbeing of students, some being more vulnerable to the onset of mental health difficulties than the sector has experienced in the past. Research undertaken by Student Minds (Press Release) suggests that, despite the substantial and increasing investment in welfare services provided by some universities across the country, students are more likely to disclose challenges they are experiencing to a friend than to their university. The research suggests that a fear of being judged is the greatest challenge to students when considering whether to access dedicated professional services. Discussions with students who attended Academic Engagement meetings in 2017/18 and 2018/19 within the School of Politics, Economics and International Relations highlighted the wide range of challenges some students may experience during times when there is a peak in the demand on their time and mental capacity. In seeking to address this, and as part of a wider Transition Strategy, the School will be offering Student Minds Look After Your Mate workshops this academic year.
The Look After Your Mate initiative encourages peer support whilst also making students aware of the need to look after their own mental health should they find themselves supporting a friend. We all know how difficult it can be to broach difficult subjects and to initiate discussions surrounding mental health; by giving students the skills and confidence to facilitate support, and to enable an effective response to those who confide they are struggling, this will hopefully enable students to receive the help and support they need sooner than would otherwise be the case.
We welcome a diverse range of students to the University and it is essential that we acknowledge the challenges some may face. By equipping students with an awareness of the range of support services available, and raising awareness of how to support friends effectively, we hope to see an improvement in the mental health and wellbeing of the student community.
The objectives are:
- To increase knowledge and understanding of what mental health is, the difficulties faced and the support available.
- To increase the skills and confidence required to support a friend who is experiencing difficulties.
- To increase knowledge of students’ own wellbeing and how to look after themselves.
It is also hoped that students who take part in the Look After Your Mate workshop will benefit from the interactive nature of the sessions where they will have the opportunity to explore their own thoughts surrounding mental health and consider their own self-care.
The Look After Your Mate workshops count towards the RED Award, speaking volumes for the personal development opportunity for students.
The November workshops will be advertised to Part 2 and Part 3 students during the School’s autumn term “Welcome Back” sessions and students will be able to sign up at these sessions. Part 1 students will have the opportunity to attend in the spring term, again with the sessions being advertised at the “Welcome Back” sessions. The interactive nature of the session means that numbers are, sadly, limited to 15 per workshop.
It is made clear to the students who take part that they are not being trained for the role of a counsellor but that they are being provided with the information necessary to approach conversations empathetically and signpost appropriate support services both on campus and within the wider community.
In response to the launch of this initiative, RUSU Welfare Officer, Gemma King (firstname.lastname@example.org) commented “Having this initiative at our University is really important as peer support can be vital in encouraging students to access the help they need. Looking after a friend with mental health difficulties whilst at University can be tough and having a space to discuss these issues and understand how to look out for peers is a positive step to changing the conversation and stigma surrounding mental health.”
Students who attended the pilot welcomed the opportunity for students to be able to access the workshop in the future, citing the benefit to both themselves as individuals and to their wider friendship groups through the development of communication skills.
The initiative was piloted with volunteers in January 2019 and we now look forward to building on the feedback received as we roll out the programme more widely with separate workshops for undergraduates at Part 1, 2 and 3.