Student Mental Health - Time for an Honest Discussion

Claire Metters
June 23 2016

Marketing & Programmes Manager, Connecting with People

The THELMAs (Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards) celebrate the successes of those who work ‘behind the scenes’ in higher education institutions. They’re a little like the BAFTAs for universities. They may not quite have reached OSCAR status (The ‘THE Awards’ takes this acclaim), however like the BAFTAs, they’re considered highly reputable and prestigious, with celebrity hosts (this years choice is Jimmy Carr) and outfits every bit as good!

Each year a charity is chosen to partner the THELMA awards, with 2016 shining a huge spotlight upon The Nightline Association, who provide the tools and support enabling student volunteers to run vital listening services within their university throughout the night. There are 39 Nightlines in the UK, all with fully-trained volunteers answering calls, emails, instant messages and texts from fellow students, and all offering a supportive, non-judgmental and anonymous outlet to those who are struggling. Trust fund donations from family members affected by suicide have enabled Nightline to collaborate with Connecting with People, industry experts providing wellbeing, self harm and suicide prevention training from a safeguarding perspective. These generous donations have allowed volunteers to receive an appropriate level of training and now armed with the knowledge, tools and confidence that could very well save a life.

There has never been more disparity between the myth and reality of todays higher education students. Long gone has the existence of the stereotype - spending lazy days in the pub, attending the occasional lecture and generally being quite work-shy (perceptions no doubt reinforced by the likes of TV programmes ‘Fresh Meat’ and ‘Skins’). Todays students are more likely to be experiencing difficulties in financial support, managing full time courses whilst working part time, with increasing awareness of the economic difficulties they face following graduation. That’s not to say that the student experience is all negative. Universities are wonderful places that nurture talent, aid development and provide opportunities that otherwise wouldn't be available. Honest discussions regarding the pressures students face today and the implications upon mental health and service provision are beneficial for all and needn’t be regarded negatively. If anything, they offer universities a unique opportunity to further improve the overall, student experience. Given that mental health social responsibility is increasingly becoming a focus for staff development within the corporate world (The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have even launched their own ‘Heads Together’ campaign), universities are best placed to prepare students for the pressures of working life, reinforcing their status as true community leaders.

Historically, little attention has focused upon researching the mental health experience of UK students. However the last ten years has seen a significant increase in statistics and research, with concerns raised regarding high numbers of students choosing not to disclose mental health concerns and assessment methods used by universities in allocating mental health provision funding.

Youthsight’s ‘Psychological Distress in the UK Student Population: Prevalence, Timing and Accessing Support’ Report’ (on behalf of the Nightline Association) revealed that:

  • 75% had personally experienced psychological distress whilst at university, with 1 in 3 students experiencing this at night, when specialist university welfare services are closed.
  • 65% had experienced high levels of stress
  • 43% had experienced anxiety, loneliness and feelings of not being able to cope

Time to Change, an anti-stigma programme run by charities’ Mind and Rethink Mental Illness revealed that:

  • 66% (559) considered themselves as having a mental health disability, however only 0.3 per cent of students declared a mental health disability on their application form
  • 93% (781) believed they have felt unusually stressed out while at university 
  • 76% (593) stated stress from personal problems, in addition to university work as main cause

The NUS survey of 1,093 students in further and universities in 2015 on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on students, revealed:

  • 75% of students reported having had a mental health problem over the last year 
  • 1/3 reported experiences of suicidal thoughts, with this figure increasing to 55% to those who did not identify as heterosexual.

A number of reputable student and professional bodies have offered recommendations for institutional change; however student mental health remains a ‘hidden problem’ for many universities, thus making the service offered by Nightline all the more a vital. 

Rising fees, academic pressures and concerns about future employability all impact on student mental wellbeing, with the exam period being particularly stressful for many students. It is important that they can share those feelings and have somebody to talk to, even during the night.” Victoria Sinclair, Charity Manger.

I’m sure most would agree that troubles and concerns can feel ultra magnified at night and it’s good to know that Nightline is there for students who are struggling. Nightline services truly deserve to be the centre of attention at this years THELMAs. Shame there isn’t an award for the most outstanding charity supporting student populations….

A statement on recent suicide statistics for young people and students

Connecting with People
May 27 2016

 

 

Every suicide is a tragedy but the loss of a young person to suicide is even more devastating. Suicide is preventable. Suicidal people are in extreme emotional pain and are often ambivalent about dying. Their lives can be saved up until the final moment. People take their own lives because the distress of living becomes too great or illness or other personal circumstances seem intolerable.  Statistics published by the National Confidential Inquiry this week are sober reading. Dr Cole-King, Clinical Director, Connecting with People states that “We wish we could reach every young person who is thinking that life isn’t worth living and help them to see that their feelings are a sign that they need to change something in their life, not to end their life”.

Research has repeatedly shown that encouraging help-seeking behaviour and ensuring an appropriate and early response saves lives. Increasing hopefulness, emotional resilience, and helping someone to identify their reasons for living, have all been proven to lead to a reduction in suicide rates. Teenage life is not always straightforward. It can be a challenging and complex time with academic and social pressures that can at times create a perfect storm of distress. The National Confidential Inquiry statistics show that a significant number of the young people who died by suicide had experienced life events such as bereavement, family ill health, neglect or abuse but for some it was a more ‘routine’ event such as exam pressure or common conditions such as asthma or acne that may have been the ‘final straw’. It is important that adults listen to young people and realize that for some a seemingly ‘minor’ issue could lead to suicide and to take every suicidal thought seriously. The majority of young people who end their lives by suicide are not in touch with mental health services around the time of their death. However, they are almost certainly always in contact with someone who could provide an opportunity to support. 

Sadly, half of all young people who have died by suicide had a history of self-harm. The good news is that this knowledge provides an opportunity for suicide prevention for some. Most young people who self- harm are able to develop alternative ways of coping and replace the act of self-harm with less harmful coping strategies ‘Talking not Harming’ is an important transition in the road to recovery. Compassionate communication with people at risk of suicide saves lives. For those young people at risk of suicide, connecting with an empathic, confident and competent person could be their tipping point back to safety, when they start to receive and accept help to deal with their problems and find a way forward. 


Shame and fear of discovery mean that young people often keep self-harm a secret. Unless medical treatment is required following self-harm, it is not usually reported.  The reasons why people don’t seek help following self-harm aren’t known, however it seems likely that stigma is an important factor. On the other hand some may not disclose their self-harming behaviours because no one actually asks them if anything is wrong.  
 

Secrecy is the big enemy here and encouraging young people to talk is the most important thing, Taking the time to ask a young person if everything is OK and responding in a caring, non-judgemental way is vital for creating a good foundation for discussions. Thousands of young people experience overwhelming thoughts of self harm every day, but they find ways to cope with these intense feelings. Like them, your child or the young person you care about, can work through their feelings.
 

It is never too late to take action,to help a situation that seems hopeless and every contact with individuals who self-harm is a opportunity to address the unbearable emotional distress that they are feeling.
 

There may be times when a young person’s level of distress is so severe that it will impair their ability to see an alternative to suicide, even where the impact of psychosocial stress, severe life events or illness could be mitigated with the right support. At such times, the moral imperative to reach out in order to save their life may necessitate the difficult decision to call for emergency help on their behalf, if their whereabouts are known. 
 

People who self-harm or are close to suicide, but choose to seek help and receive support, are much less likely to end their own life. Furthermore, the majority of people who attempt suicide and survive, never try to take their own life again. If we can support a young person in distress and at risk of suicide, there is a good chance that we will save their life. 
 

Many people don’t know how to approach someone who they think might be engaging in self harm and people who are distressed or overwhelmed and considering self harm, do not know where to go for help. Connecting with People have produced a series of leaflets on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, providing information for both individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts and those who are concerned. These are available through the Royal College of Psychiatrists or the Connecting with People website: http://Connectingwithpeople.org/ucancope
 

Dr Cole-King  said “It’s key that every young person considering self-harm or suicide needs to know they can be supported through tough times. They need a Safety Plan with details of what they can do to help themselves and who they can contact for support. Information about how to make a Safety Plan can be found in the ‘Feeling Overwhelmed and Helping You Stay Safe’ resource. This is an Interactive online resource for anyone struggling to offer hope, compassion and practical ideas and suggestions on how to find a way forward 

http://www.connectingwithpeople.org/StayingSafe
 

Royal College of Psychiatrists leaflet on self-harm http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/self-harm.aspx

 

About Connecting with People

Connecting with People is an organisation of passionate professionals, united by a desire to reduce the stigma associated with mental health difficulties, by actively promoting a whole-community, cross-sector approach to self-harm. We have successfully collaborated with numerous organisations to disseminate our approach of building wellbeing, resilience and resourcefulness in young people. We offer two modes of training delivery to maximise delegate attendance at minimal cost. Our Direct-to-Participant modules can accommodate up to 30 delegates at a time, with our Train-the-Trainer programmes helping organisations to build a team of in-house trainers who are qualified to run sessions themselves.

Mental Health Stigma Kills

Gavin Peake-Jones
October 10 2014

Chief Executive, Connecting with People – providing Workplace Mental Health Training and Consultancy

Is mental health the last workplace taboo? Today is World Mental Health Day. Despite the fact that 1 in 3 people*1 in the UK experience mental ill health, we still find it difficult to talk about it and seek support. Mental ill health is not something that happens to other people. It happens to people like you and me.

The results of a recent survey of 2,000 workers, published in the Guardian today, show that 40% experienced symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in the past year. I know from my work with leading employers, that there is still a very poor uptake of resources available through occupational health. This is often due to the stigma that still surrounds mental ill health, which is usually caused by a lack of understanding and knowledge. People are concerned about the impact that disclosing their mental illness may have on their career.

Stigma kills. If people feel unable to seek support when they are experiencing emotional distress, this can lead to suicidal thoughts as people look for a way to escape the distress. Suicide is more common than you might think. 3 times as many people die by suicide in the UK than in road traffic accidents. It is the biggest killer of our young men. The global figure for people who experience suicidal thoughts during their lifetime can be as high as 1 in 2. We just don’t talk about it.

There is a common misconception that if someone has experienced mental ill health once, they are more likely to become ill again in the future. The vast majority of people make a full recovery from a period of mental ill health and never experience their symptoms again. Even people who have a severe and enduring mental illness are able to manage their symptoms with on-going support, talking therapies, medication and self-management techniques. As an employer, our expectation should be that most people make a full recovery, in the same way as we would if they were experiencing a physical illness.

I have seen a marked shift in the past 5 years, with more employers recognising the importance of good mental health, not only as a responsible employer but also the impact on business performance. Mental ill health costs UK business £26 billion per year*2, which equates to approximately £1,000 per employee.

A very small investment of time and resources can have a huge impact on a business. We have found that just a short 2 hour training session with line managers can be enough to give them the knowledge to recognise the early warning signs of stress, anxiety and depression in work colleagues and the confidence to intervene and make sure that they get the support that they need. This kind of mental health awareness programme was found to have contributed to a 15% reduction in sickness absence in a leading FTSE 100 financial services company. This programme was delivered by trainers who had first hand experience of working at a senior level in the city. Line managers reported that the credibility of the facilitators and their understanding of the high pressure environment gave them increased confidence to tackle this difficult issue.

The time has come for all businesses to start talking about and addressing mental health in the workplace. 
 


*1 AMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.16 Published online March 26, 2014.
*2 Source: Centre for Mental Health

Guest Blog: Active Citizenship in the 21st Century

Roz Davies
April 08 2014

Founder and CEO of We Love Life, Community Engagement Consultant and off/online Active Citizen

http://welovelife.org.uk/

Active citizenship can be defined as

A citizen who commits his or herself to an action that benefits society

 

In the 21st century digital technology widens the option for choosing when and how much to contribute to society, from spreading a tweet message in a campaign to joining and getting involved in an online community.

We can campaign, and share and spread messages quickly across the globe. The internet has enhanced our ability to communicate, raise profile and promote our chosen cause, e.g. through ‘World Days’. Twibbons and tweet #hashtags have played a growing role for people leading and participating in campaigns. #wspd is an excellent example with credit due to Dr Alys Cole-King on her pioneering use of twitter to spread the word and build support for World Suicide Prevention Day. Additionally the #UcanCope #hashtag will allow her U Can Cope NHSChangeday a sustainable future http://www.connectingwithpeople.org/changeday14

We can choose our online persona and keep our identify private. This has been the cause of much concern for very good reason, but a good example of how this can also help people was shared by a good friend of mine, Lisa Cox who featured in the NHS 65 celebrations http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/nhs-anniversary/Pages/altogether-better-lisa-cox.aspx She says that people who anonymously connect online might not be getting help anywhere else.

We can have conversations with large groups of people connected by values, purpose and common experience, find out and share information about almost anything at the click of a button or swipe of a screen! Check out http://www.our-diabetes.org.uk/, a ‘patient’-led collaboration which uses the tweetchat #ourdiabetes to encourage peer-to-peer conversation and support.

Sue Sibbald (@bdpffs) is one of the incredible e-community leaders supporting and caring for her community by sharing information, making connections and facilitating conversation through the facilitation of #bdp tweetchat. Anne Cooper (@anniecoops) and Michael Seres (@mseres) are other e-community leaders who help people in their communities all over the world, day and often night!

Another form of citizenship has emerged through digital story-telling, the most popular form is blogging. These Story sharers spend an incredible amount of time and effort sharing their stories and they are often driven by a desire to benefit society, making blogging a part of digital citizenship in health, here are two examples that are well worth reading:

Downside Up http://www.downssideup.com/

In the Blink of an Eye http://intheblinkofaneyepoemsbyadambojelian.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Charity Chat Rooms and Digital Platforms provide the space where active citizens in a given community can get together to share experiences and information and encourage and support each other. Two great example of charity-led chat rooms are ‘Everyday Living’ http://www.mssociety.org.uk/forum and the Macmillan Chat Rooms http://community.macmillan.org.uk/p/communitychat.aspx New digital citizenship platforms are springing up ever more frequently, for example www.crowdhealth.me and the www.bigwhitewall.com which was set up as an early intervention service for people in psychological distress.

There is a cautionary note to add: beware of the potential for harm in ‘bad’ information, trolling or targeting of vulnerable people and there are also the issues of slacktivism (‘likes don’t save lives'), the digital divide and the integrity of purpose of many of the data harvesting commercial companies!

Digital Technology is creating the conditions for real ‘people-powered health’, providing an amplifier for voices of citizens who are passionate about changing the status quo. At its very best digital technology offers a tool to support and enhance offline activities.

 

In the 21st Century citizenship has gone digital, giving us more opportunity and choice over how we can contribute to society and make a difference to real lives all over the world!

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