Diversity & Inclusion 5: Psychological health

Diversity & Inclusion

Briefing Notes by Dr. Siobhán Holland (St. Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill )

Any review of support for students with special needs must take into account the fact that the general mental health profile of the student body is changing. According to the Office of National Statistics, one in seven adults have ‘significant’ mental health problems at any one time, and students often fall into specific ‘at risk’ groups. As access to HE widens and financial support structures change, students are increasingly likely to be in debt and to have substantial responsibilities beyond their degree programmes. These factors can affect their psychological wellbeing.

English Literature modules often invite students to consider texts which negotiate issues that may have personal relevance to them (bereavement, suicide or coming to terms with sexuality, for example). Creative Writing course leaders have commented that mental health issues often arise when students write for the first time about experiences which they have found traumatic.

Practical guidelines for staff supporting students with possible mental health difficulties– is a flowchart which summarises the guidelines presented in the Student Mental Health Manual produced at Lancaster university. You can download the flowchart in:
MSWord format
PDF format

Lecturers are rarely offered any training for the pastoral aspects of their job, and will of course recognise the limits of the kinds of informal support they are able to offer. However, they will always play a crucial role in connecting students to the kinds of detailed help they may need. A detailed survey of student psychological health at the University of Leicester showed that academic tutors are the people to whom students are most likely to turn for help, after their friends and family. In addition to having knowledge of the appropriate onward referral procedures in their department and institution, it will be helpful for full-time and part-time staff in our disciplines to be aware of relevant issues and support strategies.

Resources for raising awareness about student mental health issues may well be available from your institution’s teaching and learning department. The Student Mental Health Manual will also prove a really valuable resource. It provides, for example, a suggested course of action for those occasions when students express concern to tutors about the welfare of one of their student colleagues.

Students and staff can also be encouraged to consult the university counselling service, general practitioners, the MIND infoline (0300 123 3393 (also, see MIND’s booklet on How to Cope with the Stress of Student Life by Penny Cloutte (London: Mind, 1998) and the Samaritans who have set up an email address in a specific attempt to reach out both to students and to academics (Samaritans are available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide. Samaritans now offer support not just through the 24-hour telephone helpline (08457 909090, and local branch numbers) and a drop-in service at branches, but also through email at jo@samaritans.org.