The term positive mental health is often used interchangeably with the term mental wellbeing. Current research on wellbeing has two distinct perspectives:
- The hedonic approach, which focuses on happiness and defines wellbeing in terms of pleasure attainment and avoidance of pain;
- The eudaimonic approach, which focuses on meaning and self-realisation and defines wellbeing in terms of the degree to which a person is fully functioning. (Deci & Ryan, 2001)
These two views have given rise to different research interests and a body of knowledge that is in some areas divergent and in others complementary.
We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. Whilst your role is primarily to help students to learn, looking after the wellbeing of students is the responsibility of all staff.
A survey by the National Union of Students revealed that the majority of students experience mental health issues. If a student opens up to you about how they are feeling, they’ve probably chosen you because they know and trust you. You don’t have to be an expert in mental health to listen. Here are some top tips from the Samaritans on how to engage in active listening.
It’s not unusual for students to become emotional and even to cry. Don’t panic. Just because someone is upset or crying doesn’t mean they have a mental health problem and need professional help – you wouldn’t go to the doctor because you skinned your knee. Sending them away to speak to a counsellor may be unhelpful or unnecessary, and the student may feel you are being dismissive of them.
However, if you are concerned about what a student is saying, or you’ve noticed a pattern of behaviour beginning to develop which may be unhealthy or disruptive to their lives, you can signpost them to Library and Student Services (LSS).
Where should you direct students?
Each campus has a library. Within the library the Gateway is the student portal for information, advice and guidance. The Gateway is made up of a team of advisers who can assist students with queries about any topic. The Gateway staff are trained to offer support and to signpost students to the relevant service. Please ask your students to go to the Gateway Desk in the library and speak to an Adviser.
Each campus has student counsellors based in or near the Library who are professionally trained and qualified to support students who self-refer for counselling. Counselling is very popular amongst the student population, and the service is often oversubscribed. At certain times of the year the service operates a waiting list due to high demand.
Counselling is not a crisis service, and counsellors can’t be first responders in difficult situations. Counsellors are unable to share information about whether a student is accessing the service or what the student discloses, as they are bound to codes of confidentiality. However, counsellors can offer you advice and support if you are concerned about a student.
Staff seeking support for their own mental wellbeing should contact HR or access the Staff Portal for information on counselling for staff.
In the unlikely event that a student is severely mentally unwell, or is of risk of harm to themselves or others, it may be necessary to involve statutory services. If a student is functioning well enough to make decisions, direct them to contact their GP or to present at the nearest A&E. If you are unsure, in an urgent situation call NHS 111; in an emergency situation call 999.
Ryan, R. and Deci, E. (2001) ‘On Happiness and Human Potentials: a review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being’ in: Annual Review of Psychology, pp. 52, pp. 141-66
© Matthew Tizzard