Our new course Pressure Points course is launching soon! This online programme is designed to complement your institution’s student wellbeing initiatives, to support the varied and complex needs of students, staff and faculty on and off campus.
In anticipation of publication, we got in touch with our advisory board member Dr Lesley Black to answer a few questions regarding the course and tackling student wellbeing within institutions.
Dr Lesley Black is the Director of Student Support and Success at the University of Winchester, and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Q1: How can staff best equip students to recognise and cope with the everyday challenges surrounding stress and mental health?
Dr Lesley Black: Everyday life comes with ups and downs. Sometimes we can feel like we are the only ones finding things tough – and students are just the same. Staff can support students in recognising when their stress levels may be rising and provide frameworks for students to seek support and guidance. Transition activities are useful in scene setting and normalising pressure points throughout the academic year; appropriately supported peer networks are often useful for students to share and normalise their concerns; and clear guidance and information on how to access support services (repeated in varying formats and throughout the academic year) all help to support students in recognising what are normal challenges, and what may be something that needs additional support.
Q2: What would you consider to be the greatest obstacle currently faced by student services teams?
Dr Lesley Black: One of the biggest obstacles Student Services teams currently face is a combination of internal resourcing to meet ever growing demand (and complexity of demand) alongside the challenges of a lack of availability of suitable support provision within statutory services. Access to and wait times for specialist mental health provision can be very challenging for Student Services to manage.
Q3: What is your advice for staff around addressing sensitive and triggering subjects which may arise when supporting students in crisis?
Dr Lesley Black: When supporting students in crisis it is important to be clear, calm and open. It’s key to acknowledge how the student in crisis is feeling and not to make assumptions. During a period of crisis it may be that staff need to broach sensitive, or potentially triggering subjects, such as self harm or suicide. Words matter. It’s essential not to use language that could reinforce stereotypes of discrimination. Being direct and talking about suicide openly won’t increase suicidal thoughts and it’s more likely to facilitate an honest conversation. Be hopeful about the future and encourage the student to seek appropriate help. If they have a support plan, ask them to share it and work through it with them.
Q4: How can universities encourage their student communities to break the stigma surrounding mental health challenges, and to actively speak out to seek and provide support?
Dr Lesley Black: Taking a whole University approach, embedding positive messages about mental health and wellbeing, including positive messaging about seeking support at all levels helps to break down barriers across Universities. By modelling this positive framework from the institution an open culture towards mental health challenges can be created, normalising the topic between students and staff. Working closely with Students’ Unions to develop and run activities, workshops and peer led events also helps to normalise mental health challenges and destigmatise seeking and providing support.
Q5: Why would institutions benefit from investing in Epigeum’s new online course Pressure Points?
Dr Lesley Black: Pressure Points provides an opportunity for students to learn more about mental health challenges in a safe and guided manner. It will enable students to both understand more about their own mental health as well as learning how to support peers who may be experiencing difficulties. It further offers a wide range of resources for students to dip into in their own time. Pressure Points would complement institutional resources, providing a framework for students to identify areas of self help as well as guiding them to more specialist or institutional support services as appropriate.
If you’re passionate about implementing student wellbeing at your institution, visit our course’s webpage today to find out more or to request a free trial.
Pressure Points launched on 31st July.