The rise in mental health issues among students is something that all universities are aware of as they explore different ways of tackling the situation.
One approach is for institutions to provide mental health first-aid training to staff and students in order to help them recognise mental health symptoms and deal with them in a timely and sensitive manner.
For the past two years, King’s College London has been running Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training days for staff and students. Now, it is rolling out the newly launched Higher Education Mental Health First Aid one-day specialist course from Mental Health First Aid England.
Jo Levy, head of counselling at King’s College London, says that the institution introduced MHFA training days because the counselling service had seen a steady rise in demand for its services over the past decade and King’s wanted to increase access to support.
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The university signed the Time to Change Pledge in 2014 as part of a new strategy for mental health. Included in the pledge was the allocation of £500,000 of funding to expand mental health provision, which supported the introduction of a team of mental health advisers to the counselling service and created a well-being team to promote health throughout the university.
Part of making the case for investing in mental health training involved looking at student retention rates. “If by making mental health first-aiders available we can save even two students from dropping out, or even two members of staff from taking a sickness absence, we’re saving the university money,” says Ms Levy.
“The head of the directorate had been on a MHFA course and thought that it was the most appropriate option out there for what we wanted to achieve university-wide,” adds Ms Levy, who leads on the provision of mental health training for King’s.
Ms Levy and three colleagues participated in the MHFA Instructor Training programme so that they could deliver courses in-house.
The training was well received and now more than 650 staff across a range of departments are proficient in mental health first-aid. The training is not mandatory but student-facing staff, including those employed in library services and students services, as well as administrators, personal tutors and supervisors, were encouraged by their respective heads of department to take part.
Students are also encouraged to take up the course too, with welfare reps from student societies, peer supporters and resident wardens all undertaking a MHFA half-day course as part of their training.
“Wardens are on call in their halls of residence,” Ms Levy explains, “so it’s really beneficial for them to have a grounding in a basic understanding of supporting mental health.”
King’s is now set to expand its mental health provision. The counselling service will collaborate with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience to evaluate and develop existing programmes, while another member of staff will be trained as a MHFA instructor to increase capacity to deliver courses.