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Raising Awareness of Student Mental Health

02 February 2023

Jenny Patrickson, Active IQ Managing Director

Talking about mental health is now much more commonplace in educational settings, which is something to be celebrated. But there is still more to do to make sure everyone feels able to speak about how they are feeling. Time to Talk Day is an initiative run by the UK’s leading mental health charities and encourages more open discussion of people’s wellbeing in order to remove the stigma surrounding such conversations, which has proven hard to completely remove.

The pandemic proved a major challenge for people’s mental health, students and staff alike. It is important that college staff are aware of how to respond to students and colleagues who are struggling. But how can staff ensure they have the confidence and vocabulary to know what to do? And how can students be empowered to help themselves and each other?

The Power of Education

As part of Active IQ’s partnership with the AoC, we are working closely together to support and upskill learners and staff alike. Last year, we supported college staff with a series of interactive webinars to give practical tips, strategies and knowledge for identifying and supporting someone struggling with poor mental health. More specifically, sessions were designed to prepare colleagues to give support to students who may be feeling suicidal. Spotting early warning signs alongside practical advice on preventative measures were a key part of the training. Our hope is that with more education like this, the shocking numbers of attempted suicides among our nation’s young adults will decline significantly in the coming years.

Another important aspect to consider is that it’s not just students who are struggling. Staff are also under extreme pressure often leading to fatigue, anxiety, low mood and burnout. Learned from decades on the job, those in leadership positions may have finely honed skills and behaviours to deal with distress, but many younger or inexperienced staff members remain vulnerable. As the pressures mount, some valuable teachers may leave the sector entirely citing mental health as a key reason for their departure. While education alone is not a silver bullet, it can certainly help move the needle in the right direction.

Real-Life Impact

The research from the AoC shows a recurring theme: colleges reporting increasing numbers of students with diagnosed mental health conditions. The data for 16– 18-year-olds is stark: with 60% stating a significant increase over the last three years and a further 30% stating there had been an increase. This is a mental health crisis and it needs to be proactively addressed on an individual, institutional and sector level.

The good news is that change is possible. Recognising that young adults in particular are adversely affected by mental health problems, Bishop Burton College has taken a different approach by putting all its students through the Active IQ Level 2 Award in Mental Health Awareness training, following a highly successful pilot with a cohort of 300. Mike Ridley, Head of Department - General Further Education said that the training has helped build students resilience which, in turn, supports their ability to study and succeed both socially and at work.

Because students spend much more time with their peers than staff, Mike noted they are better placed to notice things among people their own age. Following training, there were a number of students who were able to identify mental health problems among their friends and within themselves. They stepped forward and sought help as a direct result of their training. The college even reported that one student disclosed to their parents that they were suffering from a serious mental health issue and wanted support as they recognised and related to several indicators during their training that made them realise that something was not right.

Change is Possible

Enabling tutors to engage in proactive conversations with students they think may be struggling and empowering them to create safe environments where people can express their feelings will go a long way in easing the pressures students will face. Equally, training young people to recognise the signs in themselves and their peers can not only help students feel supported and less isolated, it can, in some instances, be life-saving.

We are proud to play our part in supporting colleges on this journey and, in turn, hope this helps students continue their education feeling confident, valued and supported.

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