I was pleased to hear news this week that £300M has been committed as part of a green paper from the Departments of Health and Education to support schools and colleges in helping young people who have mental health issues. It is planned that this new investment will reduce waiting times for referrals to sources of professional intervention, provide training for dedicated leads in schools and colleges, and fund resources to promote well-being amongst young people from an early age.
In fact, colleges have been providing high levels of professional mental health support to their students for many years. Mental health awareness has been boosted recently by high profile spokespeople such as Prince Harry, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, through their support for charities such as Heads Together. Positive efforts to break down the taboos surrounding mental health have brought the subject out into the open, generating an increasing demand for support services.
In college last year, we saw more than 250 students referred to our support team for issues with their emotional well-being, an increase of 34% on the previous year. We have also referred around 30 students to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, up by 58%.
In college, we have an expert team offering a range of support for young people experiencing difficulties including anxiety support groups at each of our campuses, access to qualified counsellors and many enrichment and sports activities.
We have also trained 14 students in peer mentoring for those with low levels of anxiety who are able to reassure students and help them to develop coping mechanisms. Peer mentors serve to demonstrate that anxiety is normal and experienced by most people on a frequent basis. Students learn that some anxiety is an inevitable part of life and that they are not alone.
The College runs campaigns throughout the year and is currently deploying the techniques outlined as part of the Action for Happiness campaign as a basis for helping to promote good mental health and well-being. The 10 Keys to Happiness outline important key strategies and include:
Doing something for others
Helping someone who needs support can lend perspective to one’s own problems and restore any lost confidence.
A holistic approach to health that includes eating well and getting plenty of exercise has benefits for overall well-being.
Very young children are extremely good at becoming lost in the moment, but this skill tends to recede as our awareness of the wider world develops. Skills in mindfulness help students to re-kindle their ability to be present in their activities.
Learning something new
As a college, we know only too well that acquiring new skills and knowledge improves self-esteem. We encourage our students to try their skills in competitions, to help their development and to help them recognise and celebrate their own achievements.
Whether they are working on their studies or facing a crisis in their daily lives, students learn that no task is insurmountable if it is broken down into manageable goals. They are also encouraged to set aspirational, longer-term goals for themselves so that they have something positive to work towards.
The Happiness Key that forms the basis of the College’s new campaign for the New Year focuses on developing resilience. From the Latin ‘resilio’ meaning ‘to jump back’, resilience reflects the way in which we deal with adversity. Our campaign will encourage students to focus on how they tackle problems, learning to adapt so that they can overcome any crisis, large or small. We help them to learn that resilience is an acquired life skill that anyone can learn with practice.
We firmly believe that the support we offer in college will provide a foundation for young people so that they can focus on their studies, achieve well and progress on to the next stage in their lives with confidence and optimism about the future.