By Lowri Pitcher
As we enter into November, a month widely known for the ‘Movember’ movement, Gair Rhydd looks at what local politicians are doing to raise awareness of mental health issues among students.
On October 9, 59 of 60 Assembly Members signed a Student Mental Health Pledge for the Welsh Assembly, led by Cardiff Central AM, Jenny Rathbone.
The Pledge aims to raise awareness of mental health among students by achieving four main commitments:
- promote the positive wellbeing of every student in Wales
- work with a range of ambassadors to promote positive public health messages around mental health
- actively tackle discrimination on the grounds of mental health to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect
- stay aware of current trends and statistics to better monitor the state of student mental health across Wales and the wider United Kingdom
Last week, Gair Rhydd spoke to Jenny Rathbone to find out more about the Pledge and the issue of mental health among students:
What is the Student Mental Health Pledge?
The Pledge is a public expression of intent by AMs to pay attention to the alarming rise in mental health difficulties experienced by students across the UK and to endeavour to support efforts to deal with this pressing issue.
How did the Pledge come about?
The Pledge came about through conversations with other Assembly Members and charities such as Mind Cymru and Time To Change Wales, we thought that it would be extremely positive to make a public statement of support for better student mental health. It is a way of publicising the level of concern and get everybody thinking about the problem.
What is the aim of the Pledge?
To show that the National Assembly for Wales is deeply concerned about the issue and is keen to help support work being done to resolve this problem.
One of the Pledge’s aims is to “Actively tackle discrimination on the grounds of mental health.” What type of discrimination do students dealing with mental health issues face?
Studying away from home is bound to be difficult for many students, and for some, they can feel ostracised because they behave differently, or feel as if they are alone in experiencing these issues. We need to move beyond the common assertion that mental health problems are something to be ashamed of and build a more positive discussion about it publicly. In terms of day to day concerns, both staff and students can be guilty of avoiding uncomfortable situations, particularly on the grounds of wellbeing and mental health, and this needs to be improved. Also, I firmly believe that if a student is unable to attend lectures or sit exams because of mental illness, this should be given the same consideration as a physical illness.
“I firmly believe that if a student is unable to attend lectures or sit exams because of mental illness, this should be given the same consideration as a physical illness.”Jenny Rathbone AM
How can you promote student positive wellbeing in practice?
I’m interested in encouraging students to look after themselves: eating properly, getting enough sleep, not playing computer games before going to bed at night. All these can certainly help protect people from difficulties such as depression and anxiety, not to mention physical illness.
What more can the Welsh Government do to help both students who are currently experiencing mental health issues and to prevent students from suffering mental health issues in the first place?
Apart from what I have already mentioned, the National Assembly for Wales needs to think about the well-being of young people and try to reduce the stress of competing rather than collaboration. The new Welsh curriculum for schools will certainly equip young people better for the rapidly- changing world we now live in.
In addition to this, Gair Rhydd asked President of the Students’ Union, Jackie Yip about her thoughts on the Pledge. Jackie said that: “I absolutely welcome this, I want students to know that they are not alone, that they’re supported beyond just the university and that the Welsh Government itself recognises that there is much more to be done!”
When asked about what more can be done both by the Students’ Union and students themselves to improve mental wellbeing among students, Jackie Yip responded: “We fully recognise that there are no quick solutions. We need to keep being present at every level of student life to ensure students know where help is when they need it. The Union prides itself in its community-building initiatives, the volunteering activities we run, sports clubs you can join and all our wonderful societies are here to allow students the opportunity to get out of lectures, their bedrooms and go out to have conversations with people. Having these conversations means this mental health stigma that still exists can be broken.”
“We need to keep being present at every level of student life to ensure students know where help is when they need it.”Jackie Yip
Gair Rhydd also approached the University to ask what type of mental health services are currently available to students. A spokesperson for Cardiff University said the following:
“Student Support and Wellbeing provides a range of services to help students make the most of higher education and student life. We recognise our responsibility to promote positive mental health and reduce stigma, and are committed to supporting our students with mental health difficulties.
Consequently, our mental health service provision spans four key areas of support (detailed below) and may include: face to face appointments; peer support; mentoring; opportunities for group-work with other students; telephone or online support; reasonable adjustments; or liaison with external support services and agencies. Additionally, whilst we are not an emergency service, we do offer some services on a walk-in basis depending on availability and demand.
Areas of support
Mental Health Advisors
Mental Health Advisors work with students who have long term mental health conditions and are defined by the Equality Act as disabled. Their role is to assess the reasonable adjustments that need to be made by the University for these students and support students in accessing their studies. The Mental Health Advisers liaise with NHS services and non-statutory services to support students in accessing appropriate services. The Mental Health Advisers are available via appointments and daily one-hour drop-in sessions.
Mental Health Mentor
Our Mental Health Mentor works with students to develop strategies around managing their mental health when it has a negative impact on their ability to engage with their studies. The aim of mentoring is to enable students to identify how their mental health impacts on their studies and find practical solutions to address these issues. The role of Mental Health Mentors is a recognised Non-Medical Help service and is funded via the Disabled Students Allowances.
Counselling is delivered by way of the award-winning Cardiff Model. This is a managed-care approach that requires students to self-refer by completing an online form and outlining the issues that they may like to focus on. Subsequently, students are invited to a 90-minute Therapeutic Consultation (TC), usually within 2-3 weeks. The consultation can be face-to-face, or via a variety of telephone or online options.
Following the TC, therapists provide a summary of goals and an agreed follow-up date in approximately four weeks. This purposeful gap is to encourage students to try out strategies and draw on inner strengths/resources. Where required, ongoing therapy of up to four sessions then follows. For students with more chronic difficulties, up to ten sessions may be offered.
Wellbeing comprises both proactive and reactive methods. The reactive model is a stepped-care approach centring on a strategy-led, least intervention first structure. It spans a range of support including self-help, daily drop-ins, workshops and 1-2-1 Wellbeing Appointments (WAs). WAs are 45 minutes in length and allocated to appropriate students following self-referral. This may lead to a series of 30-minute brief counselling sessions, or to any of the other resources outlined.
The proactive element enhances engagement with the whole student community and focuses on key issues such as suicide safety, tackling mental health stigma and addressing violence and abuse on campus. This includes an innovative peer-support programme, alongside extensive partnership-working with the Student Union, Academic Schools and external agencies.
To supplement the above services and facilitate a pathway for any mental health concerns to be raised, risk-assessed, prioritised and responded to, we also operate a ‘concerned for a student’ process.”
In addition to various external campaigns, political pledges and other services currently offered by the Students’ Union; Cardiff University’s Centre for Student Life, expected to be completed in 2021 will “ create a central purpose-built environment for students that will enhance and extend our student support services.”
With increasing levels of mental health issues reported among students, the Pledge is certainly a step in the right direction towards tackling the issues and treatment students face when dealing with their mental health.