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Enhancing student mental wellbeing in the COVID era

A blog from Dr Dominique Thompson, Consultant, Buzz Consulting ahead of her Enhancing Student Mental Wellbeing in the Covid Era Training Course taking place on July 1st 2021.Find out more about the training course

When do you ever have time?

Time just to think, reflect, and ponder? Probably never, sadly. But this course, on the 1st July, and which I am really pleased to be chairing, is all about giving you time. To consider where you are now (with service provision for students), and to think critically about what you would like your support to look like, in the current, or ‘post’ COVID, era.

Over the past year university staff have been working extremely hard to help their students (and each other) at a difficult time. It has meant spending a lot of time reacting, but, because of pressure, lack of time or energy, there isn’t always the opportunity to reflect, and check what’s working, or what the barriers are to doing things differently, and therefore to be more proactive.

Taking the time to consider this can feel like a luxury of course, one that we don’t really have, but the great thing is that this one day course will allow participants to share their experiences and hear from experts in the HE field. It will cover responses to supporting students in lockdown or those who are isolated and discuss where institutions are focusing their attentions or planning new initiatives.

The importance of academic staff must not be forgotten of course, as they may often be the only people having occasional remote contact with students (with cameras often ‘off’), trying to meet not only learning needs but keeping an eye on wellbeing. There will be time devoted to discussing this, and again sharing experiences.

Sometimes, despite all our efforts, or because of lack of connection with health or welfare services, students can become very depressed and desperate, so we will also review suicidal thinking, what to watch for and how to respond compassionately. Because whilst suicide has not risen in the UK during the pandemic, suicidal thinking sadly has.

University leaders and managers are undoubtedly between a rock and a hard place, pushing through in extraordinary times, and under huge pressure.

They are balancing the expectations of students (and their families) with the wellbeing of their teams. Many have been taking steps to address the universal uncertainty and anxiety of living with coronavirus, as well as trying to keep people connected, which are both vital for maintaining wellbeing.

In fact the 3 things that have been shown to ‘recession proof’ graduates (to the extent that anyone can be) are; building their social connections (like scaffolding around them), ensuring outstanding careers advice and support beyond graduation, and imbuing them with financial know-how and skills.

We are living in difficult times, a ‘New Abnormal’, and allowing ourselves time to occasionally pause, think and reflect on what we are providing is a crucial part of moving forwards (and ‘building back better’). I hope you are coping with the stresses of the COVID era, and that you will be able to take some time for yourself (not just to think about work or course!) and be kind to yourself. Soon, it will be over. Stay safe.