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Learning and reflections from GHWY’s ‘Averting crisis: Supporting the mental health of vulnerable students’ 

As part of an ongoing programme of good practice sharing events, Go Higher West Yorkshire (GHWY) brought together delegates from 11 HE partners for ‘Averting Crisis: Supporting the Mental Health of Vulnerable Students’ in June 2020. 

The diverse online session featured best practice presentations from University of Lincoln and Leeds College of Building, as well as constructive personal insights from current and former students. It concluded with an opportunity for delegates to generate ideas for practical implementation of good practice and discuss the legacy of supporting students remotely during Covid-19.   

All speakers, and the associated discussions, produced several insights related to identifying and supporting student mental health difficulties throughout the student lifecycle. Key learning points present several opportunities for the development of policy and practice. They are as follows: 

Engaging the student voice 
  • The University of Lincoln demonstrated that a peer-to-peer approach to student engagement, targeted at young people transitioning into higher education, can create informal opportunities for student-led discussion about mental health. It has adopted a digital social approach to content creation to engage more students, including YouTube videos and podcasts. 
  • Designating and training student and staff mental health leads can improve connectivity and understanding between students and staff, as suggested by Tom Boldy, an advocate for mental health training and former student at Leeds City College University Centre. 
A trauma-informed and compassionate approach 
  • Instilling a trauma-informed staff culture can help to ensure students are signposted to the support they may need with their mental health, as is currently in development at Leeds College of Building. Its approach attempts to bridge understandings of the impact of earlier trauma with students’ current social and emotional behaviour. 
  • Internal outreach that de-stigmatises mental health, and is visible throughout the student lifecycle, can help students to access support when they need it, according to our panel of current students. They also called on higher education professionals to prioritise compassion and bespoke rapport in their approach to supporting student wellbeing, noting that universal notions of self-care can be helpful but are not always appropriate for students with some mental health conditions. 

With 89% of responding delegates stating they feel more equipped to support the mental health of students as a result of the session, GHWY is confident there will be a positive impact on the student experience at institutional level. Further, GHWY is setting up a digital network for delegates, aiming to support collaborative progress and facilitate continued discussion on this vitally important aspect of student wellbeing and success.   

If you would like to receive any presenter slides from the session, please contact Susan Darlington.