We recently held a focus group with several of our members to discuss our current approach to positive health and wellbeing and our goals in launching the Student Minds Mental Health Framework. The aim of the focus group was to hear our members input and find out what more we could do to help support student's mental health.
The focus group included several members of the student body plus your Vice President Education and Welfare Natasha Neal, your President Tamsin Grainger, and our HR and Development Manager Sarah Jackson. The framework consists of 10 principles which you can find below alongside the input from our members.
Principle 1: The Students’ Union has a strategic, whole-Union commitment to mental health and wellbeing.
The mental health of our members has always been a priority for us and year on year we have continued to include our plans for mental health support in our Strategic Plan and ensure we discuss and support mental health across our teams and not only within our Advice Centre.
Principle 2: The Students’ Union’s internal processes and culture support a high level of understanding and insight into the student experience, which informs their approach to mental health and wellbeing.
Our focus group felt that the Students’ Union are showing a lot of effort in gaining an understanding and insight into the student experience but would like to see the Students’ Union optimising their use of emails and letters for a more personal approach to communicating with students as not everyone uses social media. For those that don’t use social media, the Students’ Union could branch out into other forms of communication alongside the University such as announcements on Blackboard.
With everything shifting online over the past year, our members have noted the benefit this provides for students with families who perhaps have previously been unable to attend event and engage with training and activities. Going forward, keeping an element of online events would be beneficial so that students, such as those with families or in private accommodation, don’t feel excluded as well as providing a wider range of opportunities for those who are not active members of clubs or societies.
The University counselling service is a fantastic service, but members felt there have been challenges in using this service and the Students' Union will be raising these challenges with the University. A wider promotion of who the Mental Health First Aiders are would ensure students are aware of all their options and know who they can talk to should they need someone.
Principle 3: There is a shared language and understanding between staff, officers, representatives, volunteers and stakeholders around mental health and wellbeing at university.
Our focus group believe that members are aware of the support available and they find the tone used in communications from the Students’ Union around mental health and wellbeing to be mature and never taken lightly.
Helping members understand the process of accessing that support and knowing how to reach out to the services has been highlighted as not the most straightforward. At the start of the year there is a lot of information about the resources, amongst all the other information regarding starting University and this information should be spread throughout the year. For those students who miss out on Freshers, it can feel as if they have missed out on what services are available and how they can be accessed. To ensure the information is readily available, it could be included in lectures and there could be a Students’ Union presence on the Blackboard banner linking to resources.
Our focus group felt that there could be more guidance given to students during the first few months of enrolling to enable students to be re-reminded of the services available to them at Bucks due to the overwhelming amount of information during their induction weeks. Our focus group felt the University could improve the level and style of their communications when it comes to offers of support and the Students' Union will feed this to the appropriate University departments.
Principle 4: Understanding of the SU’s role in the wider student support landscape within the community and carrying out that role effectively in partnership with the university.
The members in our focus group feel that the Students’ Union could work on strengthening their relationship with organisations who can provide support in certain areas that are not covered by the services available on campus – such as Women’s Aid, domestic abuse, and being a parent.
Principle 5: Actively practicing and promoting co-production with students, student campaigning and movement building in order to create change locally and nationally.
The campaigns run by the Students’ Union have been referred to as “brilliant” but members find that sometimes, as much as they want to get involved, they don’t always know about them and sometimes aren’t sure how they can get involved. The suggestion was to include students in the planning stages of campaigns rather than just the delivery.
Members in the focus group said they would like to see a more diverse approach to mental health conditions going forward.
Principle 6: The Students’ Union has well supported, performing and thriving sabbatical officers.
Principle 7: Staff wellbeing and development is a strategic priority and people can speak openly about their mental health.
The Students’ Union have many student leaders as a part of their community alongside student staff and the Sabbatical Officers. Some of the members in our focus group are a part of that student leader community.
The Brew Monday chat was a really useful opportunity, and it would be good to see more informal conversation opportunities like this for all members. Similarly, student staff see the benefit in having a coffee morning style chat for all student staff and having more regular ‘Honest Hours’ with the Executive Officers that are open to all our members – staff or not.
Our volunteer student staff (Executive Officers, committee members, School Officers, etc) may appreciate one day each month for a no email/no SU volunteer hours. This may support their wellbeing and give an opportunity to focus on other activities.
The Students’ Union regularly contact its members to complete surveys on lots of different things and our focus group felt a short survey specifically around mental health support would be beneficial
Principle 8: Students’ Union staff have the knowledge, confidence and skills to respond to a student or a colleague experiencing mental health difficulties.
Principle 9: Student leaders and volunteers are equipped with the knowledge, confidence and skills to understand their role in supporting student mental health and respond effectively to a student disclosing that they are experiencing difficulties.
Equipping student leaders and volunteers with the knowledge and confidence to understand their role in supporting our members with their mental health is vital and re-training happened halfway through the year for our School Officers. Opening the re-training to all student leaders and volunteers will help to ensure they are aware of what the current services are and how they can best support our members. This should include signposting so that no matter if a student approaches a Rep, School Officer, or Executive Officer, they are able to support them or let them know where they can go for that support.
Principle 10: The SU creates an environment and culture that supports positive mental health and wellbeing.
The Students’ Union has definitely created an inclusive space with opportunities to raise concerns at any time. The staff are very welcoming and help to create an inclusive space. The offices themselves can sometimes feel quite daunting as the physical space doesn’t feel welcoming. The study lounge behind Beats Café is a great space that always feel welcoming and members in the focus group have suggested creating similar spaces to this including a family friendly social space.
Culturally, it’s great to see that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training has been offered to all staff, student staff and trustees to help ensure that they can positively contribute to a welcoming and inclusive Students’ Union.
An inclusivity survey each 6 months may help the Student’s Union understand if members don’t engage in specific activities and events for a particular reason, therefore allowing us to redefine our programme to make it as inclusive as possible.
If you have any questions or would like to give your feedback on what we can do to better support your health and wellbeing at University, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org