Challenges and solutions: How schools and universities can address student well-being 
Katie Rigg, Head of Safeguarding & Student Well-being
By Katie Rigg, Head of Safeguarding & Student Well-being
   

The topic of student mental health and well-being is broad, complex and highly sensitive so we are careful and privileged to work with experts from a wide range of associated specialist fields. Their expertise covers forensic psychology, medical practice, writing, activism, editing, nursing, safeguarding, researching, workshop design, and clinical psychology. Several of them will be sharing their insights and practical strategies with our community in November at the Student Well-being Workshop in Bilbao.

Student Well-being Workshop 2019 Jane Larsson

Here are insights from some of the workshop speakers highlighting the challenges faced by educational institutions with regards to student well-being, plus ways they can take action. We look forward to hearing them go into a lot more depth and detail on these points in November.

What is the biggest challenge facing educational institutions in the area of student well-being?

Joe Sulivan is a CIS Affiliated Consultant and registered Forensic Psychologist with the Health Professionals Council (UK) and is on the British Psychological Society (BPS) register of Chartered Psychologists. He says:  As a forensic psychologist working in the field of child protection it is clear to me that there is a growing awareness of the risks posed by peer-on-peer abuse.

Doug Walker, has worked with schools and universities as a Clinical Psychologist for over a decade and is a CIS Affiliated Consultant. He says: Assisting students with their transition into university as independent adults who come with, or may experience for the first time during their college career significant mental health issues like anxiety or depression.

Natasha Devon MBE, is a writer and activist. She tours schools and colleges delivering talks as well as conducting research on mental health, body image, gender and equality. She says: Lack of services in communities to support pupils who have mental health needs over and above those which can be met within schools. 

Marcus Erooga is an Independent Safeguarding Consultant and Associate Editor, Journal of Sexual Aggression. He says: Given the multiplicity of issues that young people experience which can affect their well-being—from social media issues to changing understandings of gender identity - it can be immensely challenging for institutions to know how to respond to them all. Whilst not presuming to suggest solutions to those issues, the single theme that seems to be consistent in my work is the powerful impact of organisations creating a positive, empowering culture where all are clear about appropriate behaviour, support is available & positive challenge is experienced.

Susie March is a CIS Affiliated Consultant who provides specialist educational services based on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and Personal, Social, Health & Economics (PSHE) concepts. She says: Time. With the pressure on grades, finding protected time within school curriculum for ‘soft subjects’ such as Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is extremely hard. However, if we do not, what might be the consequences for our new alumni?

Dr Jenny Lloyd is a Research Fellow at the University of Bedfordshire within the International Centre: Researching Child Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Trafficking. She says: I think the biggest challenge facing education institutions is the impact of societal and cultural issues from harmful gender norms to the negative impact of social media. Schools and universities need to understand the big issues facing students today and work with them to create safe and protective environments. This sometimes means recognising harm in our own settings and needing to be brave enough to change our own systems and ways of working.

 

Can you name three things that CIS member universities and schools can start doing to strengthen the mental health and well-being of their students?

Natasha: 

  • Train staff in communication and language techniques to facilitate an open and supportive environment
  • Look at cost-effective ways to incorporate stress coping activities (such as exercise, creative endeavours and mindfulness) into the school day
  • Support staff wellbeing by signing up to the Where’s Your Head At employers manifesto (www.wheresyourheadat.org) - happy staff means happier students.

Jenny:

  • Listen to students about what they want and need and work with them to create the solutions
  • Learn what you are doing well to protect students and build on this
  • Get the systems and structures in place to prevent harm and respond to abuse

Joe: 

  • Improve child protection training for all staff so that they are aware of the risk posed by perpetrators of child abuse
  • Train counsellors to speak with children about trauma and sexual abuse
  • Consider radical changes to recruitment policy to dissuade abusers from applying to work in your facility and identifying those who pose a risk of harm to children

Marcus: 

  • Available and accessible support for those experiencing difficulties
  • Seeking feedback on a regular basis about the experience of being a student in their institution
  • Promoting regular discussion in the school /college community about issues identified in student feedback.

Susie: 

  • Remember your own context—local law, cultural make-up of your school, connect with local support agencies. 
  • Consult and inform your community—student voice, parental engagement, teacher comfort. 
  • Ensure sustainability through documentation—policies, curriculum and teacher development.

Doug:

  • Possess readily accessible academic services to reduce the stress associated with choice of major, challenging course work and poor study habits.
  • Universities should maintain close monitoring of general loss of interest and increased isolation, depressive symptoms and sleep problems. They should emphasize the importance of fitness, proper nutrition and good sleep hygiene.
  • Most importantly, universities need to send the message that seeking help for any type of assistance, be it academic, career counseling, or mental health is not a sign of weakness, but of strength and self-advocacy.

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