Mental Health and Wellbeing at Middlesex University

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By Jennifer Springham @jlspringham2
Joint Appointment: Lecturer in Mental Health and Practice Development Lead, My Care Academy.

Recently it was University Mental Health Day, a national awareness day for student mental health jointly developed by Student Minds and the University Mental Health Advisers Network. Students, staff and student unions in higher education institutions were encouraged to run their own campaigns to raise awareness of student mental health and wellbeing. I wanted to find out more about the initiatives here at Middlesex University to promote mental health awareness and wellbeing. 


Why is this important?

Mental health in higher education is high on the agenda, considering the alarming rates of suicides by students and young people, as well as the increasing referrals for counselling services and mental health support at universities across the country. This highlights the need for a whole university approach when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.


What does this look like in practice?

This is about involving all staff and students in mental health as a strategic priority moving forward. Examples include lecturers and technical staff from all disciplines being trained in mental health awareness and first aid, initiatives for wellbeing and health promotion, particularly around the assessment period. A co-productive approach; finding out from students what a university mental health strategy should look like and what would most help them if experiencing a mental health crisis. We all have mental health and in a community such as a university, health and wellbeing should be at the heart of it.

 

It is encouraging to see that universities are increasingly adopting mental health strategies, Middlesex University being one of them. I met with Leah Madnick, Student Counselling and Mental Health Manager at Middlesex University to talk about their service and how they reach out to students. I was very inspired by Leah’s passion for finding creative ways to promote mental health awareness and building those crucial links with university staff and external support services. In 2017 the team received additional funding that enabled the addition of Mental Health Advisors, more information regarding their role can be found in the Royal College of Psychiatrist‘s report on student mental health. We discussed initiatives that alert students to the service being there, and collaborations with external services include:

  • The Westminster Drugs Project, who provide a once a month drop in for students at their service, enabling future support to continue outside of the university
  • Papyrus, who engage communities and volunteers in suicide prevention projects and deliver training programmes
  • Rethink, who train Middlesex students on how to support their peers experiencing mental health concerns
  • Barnet Wellbeing Hub, who provide a pathway that enables students in Barnet to access services for mental health support and promotion of integration into the community
  • The Chinese Mental Health Association, who raise awareness of mental health in the Chinese community, and offer counselling in the native language
  • Kooth, an online counselling and support forum for those aged under 26 who are living or studying in Barnet
  • Barnet’s Autism services, who provide assessment for diagnosis as well as social support and inclusion
  • Therapy dogs drop in, which has proved to be very successful in alerting students to the support services at Middlesex University

There is also a great emphasis on staff collaboration within the university, including:

  • Closely working with the Student Union, who are engaging students in discussions about mental health and wellbeing
  • Training student Wellbeing Champions to support their peers, and facilitating reflective practice 
  • Working with teams across the university – providing training for personal tutors, Unihelp and library staff as well as guidance on ‘when to refer’ 
  • Offering reflective practice for staff from all disciplines when supporting students with mental health difficulties
  • Co-developing workshops around procrastination, exam anxiety, and for those who are isolated and struggling with the transition to university life
  • Working with the Progression and Support team to support students who may be at risk of dropping out due to ongoing issues impacting on their studies

 

We are always looking for opportunities to reach out to students using therapeutic mediums, Leah Madnick


The message that Leah most wanted to send out is that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
“Suicide is the leading cause of death in people under 35, the most powerful message is that suicide is preventable. We need to talk about it more, reduce the stigma, and ensure that our students and young people can access the help that they need. We should support them in developing the skills to overcome challenges and build on their existing resilience so that they can succeed in their studies”. 

Compliment wall at Sunny Hill House

The service is based in Sunny Hill House, a discreet yet accessible place behind the Williams Building, an area I found to be warm and welcoming. Middlesex University students can also access information leaflets and guidance on a variety of mental health concerns, advice on settling into London, and the UK as well as guidance for students in recognising and offering support for those around them who may need it. Further information can also be found on the University Intranet and via the Student Union, who are always doing fantastic work with students. One project coming up is the Assessment Support project taking place between 25th April and 15th May, which includes a designated room on campus where different activities will be available to students to help them de-stress during the assessment period.

In my next blog I will be interviewing Lucy Holland, recently re-elected Middlesex University Student Union Vice President for Art & Design and Media & Performing Arts, to hear about the work she has done to promote wellbeing through conversations in the ‘We Need to Talk‘ campaign. In addition I will be talking to members of the Student Union to hear more about the Assessment Support project.

 

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