Noel McDermott, Psychotherapist and International Speaker

How to support students in #FE and #HE

The transition from living at home to living at university can be a testing time for many young people. For education professionals it is vital they help students to feel safe in their environment and provide information on how to find help should they need it. Safeguarding students is aimed at preventing harm, not waiting until there is a problem, but creating systems that support safe mental health in the same way we create safety for children to protect them from harm happening in the first place. So, how can education professionals safeguard the mental health of their students?

First we need to establish what the risks are, we know what we are trying to protect students from, the most common mental health problems they may face such as: anxiety and/or depression, stress and substance misuse issues. More severe issues include bi-polar, trauma and psychotic illnesses. Although not a mental illness, students will commonly experience loneliness and homesickness at the start of college, and this could lead to a more serious health problem if support is not available.

 Mentally Healthy Spaces for Students

The core issue we need to address is having mentally healthy spaces for students, environments that promote mental health. The key to that is through:

  1. Education - ensure students, their families, staff at school and college are educated on signs of mental distress and how to provide help 
  2. Promotion of healthy living - it’s not the mental illness that produces chronic health problems but the lifestyle the illness encourages 
  3. Access to mental health services - such as counselling or therapy on campus

Even in the case of severe and enduring mental illnesses these three things will vastly improve outcomes for students experiencing mental health problems.

 Signs to look out for that a student needs help

Educators can play a key role in identifying students who are struggling. Key indicators are seeing significant changes in a student’s mood, social habits, eating patterns, sleep patterns or use of alcohol and drugs. Other indicators will be shifts in performance of academic tasks. 

Being open to other students bringing concerns about fellows around these issues will allow the educational professional to get information from a number of sources. Creating a culture of openness about discussing struggles and sharing these simple yet effective signs and symptoms of possible struggles will be of immense help. 

How education professionals can help normalise mental health struggles

A mentally healthy environment benefits all, student, educator alike. Advocacy is needed from education professionals for these changes for their students and crucially for themselves. Leadership is needed from the educational institutions to commit the resources necessary for change. We need to see education leaders come out and share their own mental health struggles. This will encourage the open dialogue that is needed to normalise mental health struggles and the move into mental health and wealth. 

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Emotional Support from Family & Friends

When we think of mental illness we may first think about specialist professional support, but in fact it should be last. The job of the professional is and should be to support the patient in fully integrating into their peers, family and work/college environments. This stepped care approach is the core of the UK clinical guidelines in the treatment of mental illness. Find the intervention that has least impact on disrupting everyday life, the interventions that maintain everyday life. 

The role of peers and family in mental health can’t be overstated. The most powerful mental health treatment we can ever receive is to be fully supported emotionally and practically by a loving social group of friends and family. This is the focus of all mental health interventions; mental illness is a normal part of everyday life. 

Noel McDermott, Psychotherapist and International Speaker

With over 25 years’ experience in health, social care and education, Noel McDermott is an impactful workshop leader, he delivers bespoke training on a range of social care, clinical and human rights ethics and issues across multiple sectors. He is the founder and CEO of three organisations, Psychotherapy and Consultancy Ltd, Sober Help Ltd and Mental Health Works Ltd.

Noel will be speaking at the “Safeguarding Students: Addressing Mental Health Needs” Conference in Manchester on November 26th. This is the UK’s leading conference developing solutions to a wide breadth of student mental health and wellbeing challenges.

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