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Reshaped mental health services to outlast Covid-19

Higher education providers are looking to adopt ongoing, personalised check-ins to support international students’ mental health and wellbeing – including services introduced during the global health crisis – to their provisions beyond the pandemic.

Student Minds trains students to identify when friends are having issues. Photo: pexels

"There is going to be a need for more specialised resource to work with students individually"

In a PIE webinar, providers suggested that buddy and mentor programs have proved successful and close monitoring of touch points has been important since the Covid-19 outbreak.

Student Minds’s recently launched Student Space aims to connect students with trained volunteers, access articles and videos written by expert clinicians and students, as well as to discover what support is available at universities.

But even the best case scenario, universities have not been equipped to handle the huge mental health support demands of students over the pandemic, said Pete Gaffney, student engagement officer at Student Minds.

“What they can do is start putting in measures to make sure that there are different places to catch people having problems and staff are skilled and trained and also that students are as well.

“One of the things we do is provide training for students to understand, to identify problems when their friends are having an issue and how to have a constructive conversation to engage. It’s about creating a big creating a net of support rather than one.”

Speakers also shared concerns around regional discrepancies when it comes to discussing mental health.

International student at University of Brighton International College, Tala Alkalouti, originally from Jordan, suggested a stigma is attached to mental health issues around some cohorts of students.

“We don’t really talk about this a lot [in Jordan],” she said.

“We don’t usually talk about how you feel to each other. I’ve never heard someone talking about themselves to another person. I think they prefer to talk to someone they trust, maybe someone that really could help them.”

Deputy dean of partnerships at the University of Essex, Nancy Kula, shared that staff training has been important.

Clare Rawlins, vice president of International Recruitment, Enrolment and Marketing at Kaplan International Pathways, agreed, suggesting, “some of it is about adapting people’s roles in this current situation”.

“It’s about refocusing and changing,” she said. “But I think going forward… there is going to be a need for more specialised resource to work with students individually as they transition and cope with life over the next year or two.”

“Trying to get students to feel open and supported and be able to talk about their issues – that also really requires very serious training in terms of coaching and mentoring,” added Kula.

The University of Brighton International College’s buddy system was “borne out of the first lockdown”, College director Caroline Lewis shared.

“When we first went into Covid, one of the things that we wanted to do was make sure that we kept in really regular contact with our students to find out what they were dealing with,” she said.

“We assigned every student a dedicated member of staff from the college services team, and they would check in with them at least weekly, sometimes more often than that.”

By attaching buddies throughout the program, students could build a connection and have a first port of call for anything non-academic, Lewis suggested.

“It just worked so well that it’s become so structured now that we do that as part of welfare for the students. And so lots of things that have come out of the pandemic that will become part and parcel of just what we do now moving forward.”

A “whole university preventative approach” helps to stop students getting to the crisis point in the first place, Gaffney added.

“The emphasis is more on, how do we stop them getting to the crisis point in the first place?”

“For [Student Minds], the emphasis is less on how do you identify students when they get to a point of crisis, although that is extremely important, and more, how do we stop them getting to the crisis point in the first place?”

Friends on courses, clubs and societies, at the student union, can all prove effective to catch students at risk, he hinted.

“The work we try and do is put in best practise principles and support our partners to build a culture and an environment that encourages students to look after their own well-being and embed support networks university wide.”

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