Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers: Reflections from Brighton (UKCGE)

From the 16th – 17th May, the Higher Education community and beyond descended on the Jury’s Inn Waterfront in Brighton, for the 1st International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers. The conference was organised by United Kingdom Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE), in partnership with nature research, the University of Portsmouth, and the University of Sussex.

Across the two days, presentations and roundtable discussions showcasing the latest research and best practice within PGR mental health were delivered (the conference programme can be viewed here). Such presentations also included updates from a selection of the Office for Students Funded Catalyst projects, including the PGR Wellbeing project (led by the University of Portsmouth, in partnership with Leeds Beckett University, and co-presented by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten and I).

Reflections

A range of quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods projects across the UK and internationally are exploring how PGR mental health can be supported – ranging from individual interventions, through to environment/cultural change at an Institutional level. Topics were wide-ranging and included use of pastoral tutors to support PGR mental health, exploring PGR perspectives of their study, how we can build communities, and on creating evidence-based wellbeing programmes.

A particularly poignant session from Day One (16th May) included the PGR panel in the morning, with Danielle Hayter and Mahmoud Elmarzouky from the University of Portsmouth, as well as Yasser Kosbar, and Dr Sophie Valeix from the University of Sussex, discussing their experiences of PGR study and what they felt needed to change. The discussion hit close to home for me, and for many within the room; reminding us all (if ever we needed it), what the focus should be on and why we were there.

There was agreement that best practice, particularly from the Catalyst projects, needs timely sharing across the sector; that work should also focus on solutions to the problems identified (i.e. what can we take back to our Institutions now); that there needs to be a cultural/environmental shift in Higher Education, and that PGRs should be involved in decision making (co-production).

With the recent announcement of further funded projects supporting a step change in mental health for all students (OfS Challenge Competition), student mental health more widely remains firmly in the public eye.

To read the conference updates and further learning, see #MHWBrighton on Twitter. The conference programme can be viewed here. The 2nd International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers will take place in November 2020, with conference location to be confirmed.

PGR Wellbeing team representatives (left to right): Dr Jane Creaton (PI), Mahmoud Elmarzouky (PGR), Danielle Hayter (PGR), Dr Rachel Moss (RA), Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten (Co-Investigator).

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss, Research Associate for the Office for Students funded PGR Wellbeing project, based within the School of Education and Sociology (EDSOC) at the University of Portsmouth.


Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 – Body Image

University of Portsmouth alumni discuss issues around body image and provide tips for managing the impact this may have on your mental health:

TIPS FOR BODY IMAGE AND MENTAL HEALTH:

  • Show yourself some gratitude: Instead of judging your body for how it looks, think about everything it allows you to do. This is just as true with your mental health. Instead of judging yourself what you haven’t done, remember everything you have achieved.
  • Be kind to yourself: You may have heard the phrase ‘It’s okay to not be okay’ and reminding yourself of that is just as important as other people knowing. Show yourself the compassion you would show to others, take the time out you need and don’t judge yourself for needing it or for feeling a particular way. It often helps to think of what you would say to someone else if they felt like this.
  • Talk: Though it may seem like a simple and obvious idea, when you’re struggling with your mental health talking to others about it can feel impossible. However when you can get past the feelings of shame and fear of how others will react, this can be such a beneficial tool. Talking about how you’re feeling and struggling can lift a weight off yourself, as well as being a first step to getting the support you need.
  • Prioritise your mental health: If you had a broken arm, your first stop would be a doctor or the hospital. You and your mental health deserve just as much care.

To view the full article originally posted by the University of Portsmouth Alumni Association click here.

With thanks to Hannah Morton and Rebecca Hill – University of Portsmouth alumni, mental health campaigners and bloggers.

Mental Health First Aid

Why mental health first aid?

We all have mental health, which varies to some degree, just as we have varying physical health. Mental health conditions are common. In any given year, up to 1 in 4 of individuals in the UK may experience a common mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. Moreover, the majority of mental health conditions develop before the age of 24 years. Attention in national policy for the NHS (England) is increasingly focused on early identification and prevention of mental health conditions (e.g., Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, the recent publication of the NHS Long Term Plan). One proposed component of early identification and prevention includes mental health literacy, defined by Jorm (1997, p .182) as the “Knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management or prevention”.

Mental health first aid training

I recently completed the two-day Adult Mental Health First Aid training delivered by Mental Health First Aid England, which has enabled me to be described as a Mental Health First Aider (to learn more about the role, please click here). The training, first and foremost, focuses on improving individual knowledge (e.g., type of symptoms) of a range of common mental health conditions and is underpinned by the work of Kitchener and Jorm.

The common mental health conditions touched upon included depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, as well as personality disorders. Self-harm and substance abuse was  also explored, as were crisis situations whereby an individual expressed suicidal intent. In improving our knowledge and having open dialogue, the training seeks to reduce stigma.

The scope of the training

Our role as Mental Health First Aiders is to offer non-judgemental support (complimenting existing services provided), as well as signposting (in-house, local and national services). Importantly, those that are mental health first aid trained are not qualified mental health professionals (e.g., psychiatrist), and are not a substitute for professional support. During the training we were provided with practical tools for supporting individuals – this centred around the acronym A.L.G.E.E.

A – approach, assess, assist

L – listen non-judgmentally

G – give support

E – encourage to seek appropriate professional help

E – encourage to seek further support

Being a Mental Health First Aider is principally about hope – for support, for recovery, for the reduction of mental health stigma. In addition, the training emphasises that you should not neglect your own mental health and wellbeing in supporting others.

Next steps

Following the training, I am exploring ways in which my skillset can be incorporated into my place of work (a Higher Education Institution) and project (e.g., advertising – email signatures, posters etc.). It is important to be aware of what your workplace currently offers, and how you (and others) can complement that (utilise existing networks!). It is worth noting that many Higher Education Institutions hold ‘in-house’ training, and this is a useful option to improve your mental health awareness and knowledge of how you can support others (e.g., students, staff members). There are calls for Universities as a whole, and for supervisors in particular, to play a role in the early identification and prevention of mental health conditions in researchers, and having a degree of mental health literacy can facilitate this. Collectively, we can play our part.

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss (Twitter: @DrRMoss), Research Associate on the PGR Wellbeing project at the University of Portsmouth (School of Education and Sociology).