Mental Health Awareness Event, University of Portsmouth

To coincide with Mental Health Awareness week (14-20 May), the University of Portsmouth is hosting a special event to provide greater understanding of a range of mental issues faced by children.

Researchers are aiming to improve mental health in young people.

The Mental Health in Childhood and Education (MICE) Hub and School of Education and Childhood Studies at the University is holding its second Mental Health Awareness event on Thursday 17 May from 9:30am to 3pm.

This event will focus on mental health and wellbeing from early childhood to adulthood and is in response to proposals in a recent green paper to transform NHS mental health care for young people. These proposals are based on three key elements: a teacher at every school and college becoming its designated lead for mental health; help for schools from new mental health support teams; and the guarantee of help within four weeks.

The focus of the day is ‘Children’s Well-being and Lived Experiences of Health and Well-being’ and will feature two keynote talks:

  • ‘A Good Childhood? Children’s well-being in the UK’ by Larissa Pople, Senior Researcher and expert in children’s well-being and poverty at the Children’s Society, London; co-author of the ‘Good Childhood Report’.
  • ‘Attempting to get at the lived experience of health and well-being: working with interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA)’ by Professor Jonathan Smith, Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychological Sciences, Birbeck, University of London.

Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten, Reader (Associate Professor) in Childhood Studies and Head of the Mental Health in Childhood and Education (MICE), said: “The purpose of our mental health event is to add to the ongoing debate on how we can best support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people, by specifically focussing on issues faced by vulnerable groups of children, such as children in care, and children on the margins of society and offering an insight into barriers and possible solutions.”

As well as the keynote talks, there will be panel discussions in which members of the academic community share their research on mental health and wellbeing. In the afternoon, the School of Education and Childhood Studies will launch its new IPA (interpretative phenomenological analysis) Forum, with a specific focus on work around mental health and wellbeing.

Wellbeing Workshop – Health and Wellbeing Theme, University of Portsmouth

The University of Portsmouth’s Health and Wellbeing Theme recently hosted their first Wellbeing Workshop:

Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten attended the University of Portsmouth’s Wellbeing Workshop on Tuesday 24th April at which she presented The MICE Hub to an audience of approximately fifty University of Portsmouth staff from across faculties and chaired a breakout session around wellbeing in childhood and education.

Increasing outreach for the MICE Hub:

Dr Sims-Schouten explained the purpose of the Mental Health in Education Hub and invited all attendees to book a place for the MICE Hub’s second Mental Health Awareness Event to take place on Thursday 17th May. A plethora of research is taking place across the University linked to the MICE Hub including projects specifically linked to wellbeing in childhood and education.

Reaching an interested audience:

The MICE Hub was well received and generated interest for the breakout session which included discussions around the support of autism in higher education and how technology could be used to improve this which linked to ideas around inclusivity and assessment and how to ensure assessment is for learning rather than of learning.

Potential for future collaboration and projects:

The ideas generated during this workshop will be considered for their potential to develop in to project proposals with the aim of generating external funding linked to the health and wellbeing theme so that impactful research linking to wellbeing in childhood and education can take place. This will be facilitated by follow-up sessions to be organised by the Health and Wellbeing Theme Director, Professor Gordon Blunn.

Emotional and Mental Wellbeing in UK Higher Education

Dr Laura Hyman, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Portsmouth

Student wellbeing and happiness have become increasingly visible and significant in UK higher education in recent years. Not only has it become something that universities increasingly attend to and seek to facilitate, but it is also something that now appears to be diminished for many students. The reasons for this are manifold; however, one key explanation may lie in the marketization that has taken place in higher education in recent years. Ever since tuition fees were introduced in the 1990s, the position of the student has been paralleled with that of the consumer, and tertiary education with that of a service. Students, then, develop expectations of the ‘service’ that they should receive from their institutions in exchange for their fees; and, since these rose to upwards of £9,000 per year in 2012, such expectations are arguably higher than ever before. It could be said that students are now paying for an ‘experience’ (Williams, 2013) – and their feelings about this experience are of prime importance as universities seek to satisfy as well as educate them.

Whilst for many students, university is one of the happiest times of their lives, others have been found to experience poor emotional and mental wellbeing. This could be because their expectations of higher education do not match the reality; but it is also likely to be because most students are in high levels of debt, many are forced to take on paid work alongside their studies in order to survive financially and pressure to be seen to be ‘having a good time’ is stronger due to the presence of social media and other communications technologies. Furthermore, their job prospects for post-graduation are also less certain due to the condition of the economy and the higher numbers of other graduates with whom they must compete. As a result, mental illness diagnoses amongst the UK student body have increased steadily in the last ten years (Burns 2017).

Some sociologists, such as Furedi (2017) and Ecclestone and Hayes (2009) have responded to this critically, suggesting that one reason for such an increase is the rise of “therapeutic education”, in which students (and individuals more broadly) are more commonly regarded as vulnerable. Such as “turn” has promoted a “narrative that continually raises doubts about people’s emotional capacity to deal with physical and emotional harms.” (Furedi, 2017, p.21). However, others have praised such therapeutic practices, highlighting its importance in allowing increased recognition and acceptance of human emotional suffering (Wright, 2008).

Regardless of how one responds to this, it is fairly evident that the working lives of university staff have changed as a result. The numbers of support staff have steadily increased in recent years (although student counselling and wellbeing services are now oversubscribed, with many students on lengthy waiting lists – see Buchan 2018 for discussion of this). Academic staff with pastoral responsibilities are also finding themselves discussing emotional wellbeing and mental health issues with their tutees on a more frequent basis than ever before, despite the fact that the vast majority are not trained in this area. So, how have this latter group responded to this so-called wellbeing “crisis” that students are witnessing? And, more importantly, how do universities attend to staff wellbeing when an increasing amount of their jobs involve attending to that of their students? Evidence shows that, at many institutions in the UK, staff wellbeing has been largely overlooked. Whilst several offer access to an external employee assistance programme that offers support over the telephone (Inge and Bhardwa, 2018), few provide anything in-house. This is despite the fact that a report by RAND Europe has highlighted that 37% of academic staff suffer from mental health problems (RAND Corporation, 2017), which may be exacerbated by increased pressures to obtain research funding and to provide teaching “excellence”, job insecurity for those on fixed-term and hourly-paid contracts, and a more general expectation on the part of academics themselves to maintain excessively high standards that are often required by the profession. Perhaps it is this very culture of high standards that also renders academics reluctant to seek help for their health problems (Inge and Bhardwa, 2018); as any admission of weakness would immediately prevent them from achieving the perfectionism and “excellence” needed to do their jobs well.

So, what must be done for student and staff wellbeing? Ultimately, this post has raised more questions than answers. However, it is evident that more investment is needed in both student and staff support. Furthermore, more research must also be done in order to understand how poor wellbeing is perceived and managed both by individuals and institutions.