As part of my new role as PGR Studio Research Assistant, I attended the Mental Health First Aid Training run by MHFA England, a global organisation instructing people in the early recognition of mental health difficulties in others operating within the HE Sector. Although the training is geared towards undergraduates and their tutors, it’s our belief that doctoral research students and their supervisors would also benefit from such a service. I was informed beforehand that the training would provide me with the following learning outcomes:
- A deeper understanding of the issues that relate to student and staff mental health.
- Skills to spot early signs of mental ill health.
- Confidence to signpost someone to support – whether that’s through self-help resources, university counselling services, the NHS or a mixture.
- Knowledge and confidence to advocate for mental health awareness.
The class comprised of teaching and support staff from institutions involved in the Midlands 3 Cities Doctoral Training Partnership. It was re-assuring to find out that the other attendees were as serious about the health and well-being of everyone involved in Higher Education as myself and had similar anecdotes to my own about the prevalence of poor mental health in universities across the Midlands. The MHFA England trainer was clearly passionate about the subject and this made for a really engaging day of learning. During the day, the instructor generously shared their own accounts of people presenting mental health difficulties and this added to the effectiveness of the day. Subjects covered were as follows:
- Mental Health First Aid
- What is mental health?
- Impact of mental health issues
- Stigma and discrimination
- What is depression?
- What is an anxiety disorder?
- Alcohol, drugs and mental health
- First aid for depression and anxiety
- Cognitive distortions and CBT
- Suicide figures and risk factors
- First aid for suicidal crisis
- First aid for self-harm
- Eating disorders
- First aid for eating disorders
- First aid for psychosis
- Building a mentally healthy higher education community
Some aspects of the session were quite moving; a video of under-graduates speaking about their feelings of isolation in H/E and how they eventually overcame their fears, provided powerful proof that, at times, people in education can feel alone, vulnerable and in need of emotional support. What I took away from the training was the notion that our mental health is in flux; our trainer, described it as a “continuum”, and whilst we might be resilient today, the possibility that our mental resources might breakdown, therefore making us vulnerable to the unforeseen pressures of life, is a real possibility. I learned that listening to someone who might be in crisis is crucial; listening to them in a non-judgmental, compassionate manner is essential for positive change to occur. It was also made clear to all the attendees that, as Mental Health First Aid Champions, we were to look after ourselves too; we could only listen, we could only help, if our resources and our support systems were firmly in place – this made such sense.
I’m looking forward to my role as PGR Studio Research Assistant, being able to support doctoral research students, supervisors and support staff. I look forward to being able to point people in the right direction for the appropriate assistance, towards other compassionate ears and to help them achieve their full potential at BCU.
Dr Greg Dunn will be joining the PGR Studio team in April, with a focus on providing pastoral support for PGRs in the Faculty of Arts, Design & Media. More information about pastoral provision will be available soon.