September 21, 2017, by Ryan Neal
#StepChange & Mental Health Support at the University of Nottingham
With the publication of Universities UK’s new Step Change framework, mental health is once again back in the headlines as institutions consider how they respond and make sure to support their students.
At the University of Nottingham, we have a well-developed approach to this area. We start with the belief that, like our physical health, mental health can be cared for pro-actively. Our first step is to show our students how they can do this. Through our HealthyU campaign we educate and encourage students to take care of their mental health, as well as working towards changing the attitudes that people hold towards mental health. HealthyU is a collaborative project, drawing in staff and student groups from across the institution, including Sport and the Students’ Union, as well as specialist external organisations. Staff are also trained in mental health promotion so that they re-inforce these messages in their interactions with students.
The involvement of the widest possible group of staff members is central to ensuring we create a supportive culture. Welfare is everyone’s responsibility and everyone can play a part in supporting students’ mental health. But whilst all staff can help, there are some within the University who have specific responsibilities. Within schools, Personal Tutors provide one-to-one support and play an important part in identifying and supporting students who are struggling. Every school within the University also has an identified Welfare Officer who supports the work of Personal Tutors and aims to enhance welfare support locally. Our Welfare Officers have current and detailed knowledge of central welfare services so can actively refer students onwards as needed.
As well as supporting students where they study, we also support them where they live. Within our University Halls of Residence we have a Pastoral Care team who provide key welfare support. This pastoral care extends into the community, where students in other accommodation receive support from our Off Campus Student Affairs team. Our University Security Service also play a crucial part in responding to crisis situations, and concerns which arise out of hours. They have a close working relationship with other University mental health services so where it is identified that a student requires specialist help, they can connect them through to this.
The University also has two key specialist mental health services available: the Counselling Service and Mental Health Advisory Service. Counselling is a large team of qualified psychotherapists who provide counselling support to both staff and students. Primarily providing one-to-one support, they also run a range of groups and workshops. The Mental Health Advisory Service is a smaller team of mental health professionals employed by the University to provide advice and support to students with more significant mental health problems. It is important that students can access statutory services where needed rather than replicate support from specialist NHS services, and this team helps students to access those external services. They also help manage students who are in crisis to ensure they can quickly access effective support.
University teams also work closely with the Students’ Union to support students. The SU has a range of student volunteer groups and initiatives here including a Student Minds group which provides peer support and self-help to students with mental health problems, and the Welfare in Sport initiative which aims to improve the accessibility and inclusiveness of sports teams to students with poor mental health. Mental health awareness training is also provided to SU welfare officers and key student groups offering support to other students.
Whilst we have much in place, the publication of the new Step Change framework gives us an opportunity to access what more we can to ensure that we continue to see this as an institution-wide priority and continue to achieve our commitment to excellence in education and student life.