University Mental Health Day – an interview with the Head of Counselling and Psychology for Wellbeing Support Services
As explained by the Warwick University website, ‘University Mental Health day is a national day devoted to mental health for people who study and work in higher Education, bringing together the university community and highlighting the importance of mental health as a priority’. To me, it is undeniably important that discussing mental health and improving services available remains at the forefront of our minds and our priorities, and that we should always strive to do more. University Mental Health day therefore provides an opportunity for us to reflect upon an issue that effects such a large amount of students everyday, and get people talking. This week I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Samantha Tarren, Warwick’s Head of Counselling and Psychology for Wellbeing Support Services, to discuss University Mental Health Day and what Warwick University is currently doing to support their students.
As Head of Counselling and Psychology for Wellbeing support services, what is your role within the University?
Warwick’s Wellbeing Support Services provides a range of services that can help students to develop the personal resources and skills they need to navigate the challenges and opportunities of student life. The Counselling and Psychology Interventions Team (CAPIT) offer a range of therapeutic interventions for students experiencing emotional or psychological issues. In my role I head up this team and work closely alongside the staff across Wellbeing Support Services in the Disability Team and the Wellbeing Support Team to ensure students are well supported. I also have a strategic role in helping to develop the longer term Wellbeing Strategy and supporting the institution, providing consultancy on mental health-related matters and supporting staff with relevant advice and guidance when necessary.
What do you aim to achieve throughout your role, and why is it important for students?
In my role, I hope to ensure students have appropriate, accessible, professional and effective therapeutic support to help them work through any mental health-related issues that may be hindering them. I believe it’s important that students are supported, enabled and encouraged to be mentally healthy so that they can thrive at University and beyond.
What made you want to undertake this important role?
I trained and worked in the mental health field since the 1990s and came to work at the University of Warwick in 2000. I have seen support provision for students increase from 6 staff to more than 50 staff that we have today. I believe that good mental health is the foundation for positive living – not just for students but for everyone. My role allows me to use my skills and experience to ensure the provision for students to maintain their wellbeing is as good as it can be.
What is ‘University mental health day’? What does it mean to you?
University Mental Health Day is recognised nationally and aims to help raise awareness about mental health. This year is extra special as it chimes with the Warwick Wellbeing Strategy that we are currently developing and links in with the recently published Student Mental Health Charter created by Student Minds. For me it’s a chance to appreciate all the work we do to empower all members of the University of Warwick community to actively support mental health.
Can you give an overview of the mental health support currently available to students at Warwick?
Firstly we offer a daily drop-in service (Monday to Friday, 10am to 3pm) for students to visit WSS and meet one of our Wellbeing professionals for a brief consultation to help identify their individual best next steps. From there a student may be offered information about the range of approximately 100 titles in our on-line self-help resources; they may be invited to a masterclass and/or a specific skills session; they may be offered a wellbeing appointment to consider their emotional, wellbeing or broader welfare needs. Beyond that they may be advised to book an appointment with our Psychological Therapists who will work to help them explore their issues and effect changes. We also offer an Email Counselling Service for those who choose to work therapeutically via email and we have the option to offer ongoing group therapy for students. So, we offer a comprehensive range of support to meet the whole spectrum of student mental health need.
What would you tell a University student who is struggling with their mental health, and isn’t sure who to reach out to? Or, a prospective student who is worried about getting support at University?
I would like to reassure all prospective and current students that our WSS team is experienced at supporting students who may have long term mental health issues that impact their studies. For those students who may struggle with mental health issues, we have Advisers who can support them with advice about reasonable adjustments to study and guidance on accessing ongoing appropriate support. They simply need to submit an enquiry on the WSS portal. For any student who is unsure who to reach out to, I would suggest checking out the WSS website for information or call in (by phone or in person) for guidance where our helpful Admin team will guide them on what to do next.
Do you think the University could do more to support student mental health, and are there any planned developments to give students more support in the future?
Following a comprehensive review of our Wellbeing Support Services provision we have recently revised what we offer, informed, not least, by feedback from students. Our mission is to ensure students have access to the right support at the right time. We are now located centrally in Senate House in our newly refurbished premises which is a significant improvement from previous years making our services readily accessible. We have a new online system for students to submit any wellbeing enquiries which is easy for students to use, along with our daily drop-ins, so seeking support is very timely and straightforward. Through our new staff structure we are developing better links with local services and we also now employ two Mental Health nurses who can support students to make sure they get to the right service if their mental health issues become acute. We have also expanded our therapeutic interventions team to be able to provide a broader range of therapies that can be more readily available to meet students’ mental health needs. We will evaluate these significant changes at the end of this academic year to determine if anything else needs attention but student feedback so far is very positive. As well as support offered to individual students, we are also passionate about embedding positive wellbeing throughout the Warwick community. Our team of Wellbeing Advisers spend time in faculties proactively promoting wellbeing. We also work with other support staff across the institution to ensure wellbeing is integrated into every area of Warwick life and we look forward to embedding this further as we progress to implement the Wellbeing Strategy.
What advice would you give a student who perhaps doesn’t want formal support, but wants to look after their mental health whilst at University?
We very much encourage students to take care of their mental health throughout university. They may wish to attend our popular masterclasses that run each Monday to Thursday 4.30pm to 5.00pm where they can learn a set of skills and strategies to improve overall wellbeing by considering their work-life balance and boosting their mood. Students may also want to try out the Big White Wall – another addition to our provision this year- that offers 24/7 anonymous online support. Our Wellbeing Advisers will also be calling in to lectures with some ‘two minute tips’ to help students maintain positive mental health.
Is there anything in particular in place to support students that may be suffering with exam or deadline induced stress in the coming months?
Yes, as well as our wellbeing masterclass, we have specific skills session workshops running at various locations across the university such as ‘Thrive during challenging times (eg exams and deadlines)’ and ‘Taking things in your stride’ (managing stress and anxiety), ‘Sleep better’ plus ‘Getting Things Done (Productivity and Procrastination)’.