September saw the successful pilot of Student Minds ‘Look After Your Mate’ here at City. Lead by the Student Counselling & Mental Health Service in collaboration with Learning Success (LEaD), Student Experience and Engagement (S&AS) and the Students’ Union, the initiative encourages peer support and a more supportive, inclusive community. It achieves this by enhancing students’ knowledge, skills and confidence to better enable them to support and respond to others who may be distressed and struggling to manage student life.
Research suggests that students in higher education may be more vulnerable to the onset of mental health difficulties and that the wellbeing of this population is in decline. Despite access to professional services, students are significantly more likely to disclose to a friend than to a university staff member, with fear of being judged cited as the greatest challenge for student mental health, which can negatively affect academic performance, progression and retention. It’s essential that the university responds to the diverse needs of our student body, challenges stigma, equips staff and students with the skills and knowledge to effectively support friends and colleagues, and continues to raise awareness of support services in order to improve the mental health and wellbeing of our community. Evidence suggests that peer intervention programmes like ‘Look After Your Mate’ can contribute to tackling many of these issues.
Conversations about mental health, as many of us can attest, can be challenging. If we are concerned about someone, how do we approach them and what do we say? The interactive ‘Look After Your Mate’ workshop addresses these questions and allows students to explore their own ideas and beliefs about mental health and wellbeing in a relaxed and supportive environment. It also emphasises the importance of self-care and considers how to manage personal boundaries; we don’t expect our students to assume the role of counsellor but hope to provide them with the necessary tools to approach conversations they may already be having with friends, and signpost to appropriate services.
The initiative was trialled with a self-selecting group of CityBuddy Leaders. The students who attended were fantastic! They were engaged with ideas and concepts raised in the training, and willing to contribute to discussions throughout. The feedback received was extremely positive with one student reporting that she felt she could utilise the content of the session both as a CityBuddy and in her day-to-day life.
This collaborative project allowed us to draw on the experience, knowledge and expertise held by City staff and students and projects such as this one demonstrate the universities commitment to a ‘whole-university’ approach to mental health. We’re looking to roll this out to more students over the next academic year, and with University Mental Health Day around the corner (Thursday 1st March… it will come around quite quickly), we will be working to raise visibility of this campaign, so keep your eyes peeled!
Hannah Abrahams (SCMHS), Ellena Wilkinson (LS), Beth Taswell (SEED) and Laura Dickins (SU)