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Wellness recovery action plans: how to support mental health

Mental health and wellbeing support is not one size fits all.

However, at Barnsley College we believe it’s vital that anyone who walks through our doors knows they can access a wealth of support regardless of their circumstances. Equally, upon leaving they should have a set of tools to empower them to reflect upon their own mental health and take action to improve it.

Our selection as a Beacon Awards finalist for mental health and wellbeing reflects our vision to transform the lives of students, building on their successes, challenges and experiences to develop them into resourceful, resilient adults.

With mental health issues amongst young people on the rise – recent figures from the NHS show around 3,370 children in Barnsley had been in contact with mental health services in the year up to September – Barnsley College’s mental health and wellbeing services knew action was needed years ago.

With the importance of good mental health under much greater scrutiny since the pandemic, our college has an even greater focus on intervention and proactive work.

Our wellness recovery action plans (WRAPs) are at the heart of this approach. The plans give individuals bespoke tools to understand their mental health, which they can continue to access and draw upon as they progress through their education, and well into later life.

Developed alongside leading mental health charity MIND, a person’s WRAP helps them form their own outlook on the triggers, warning signs and daily maintenance activities that affect their mental health. It is a set of valuable steps that a person can take should they experience any mental health concern, whether it be a one-off crisis or ensuring their daily wellbeing is kept topped up.

It is not a stop-gap in the face of ever-growing waiting lists, but an assurance that waiting does not mean doing nothing. Indeed, the opposite is true.

Getting a WRAP into place takes six weeks and consists of face-to-face, group and remote sessions. Since its introduction, the WRAP programme has been continually revised and developed. For example, students can also benefit from our ‘Mind and Mood’ system which takes the essence of WRAP but focuses more on lower-level wellness strategies in a three-week programme.

WRAP is now one layer of a tiered system that sees the college work closely with organisations including MIND and Barnsley Talking Therapies.

While WRAP presents a toolkit to be called upon, we also want to empower students to develop their own resilience and recognise when they may simply be feeling run-down or have a low mood. Particularly post-Covid, self-awareness is a crucial life skill the college strives to teach. Good tools must obviously be sharp, sturdy and used correctly.

WRAPs are one of a number of initiatives to support wellbeing in the college. We also signpost to local services, provide access to online talking therapies through the SilverCloud platform, and forum discussion and journalling through Kooth.

Aside from the central mental health and wellbeing services team, our tutorial team leaders, learning mentors and wider staff are also trained to identify and support students quicker. Students can self-refer, or they can be referred by any staff member through the CPOMS system.

Our colleagues are now confident that they can support students within their respective departments. This is a two-way relationship with mutual benefit – students may feel more comfortable to disclose issues in their typical environment and to staff with whom they have a pre-existing relationship. Overall they should, and do, feel much safer knowing support is available.

We would encourage any other college to make sure as many departments as possible are trained on this – there cannot be just at a single access point.

We are proud that our work in this area is now directly influencing learners and their families’ choice to study at Barnsley College, for the better. Prospective students and their families have recently shown increased awareness of mental health and wellbeing support, and at open days it’s often one of the first things on people’s lists when making these choices.

This listing, alongside Barnsley College being chosen as a finalist in the AoC Award for Excellence in Governance, represents the college’s total focus on setting students on the right path for their future.

Liam Garside is the Head of Student Services at Barnsley College

Find out more about sponsoring an AoC Beacon Award here.