Nearly a quarter of university staff trained in mental health first aid
This week, Scottish Government ministers visited Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh to see how the institution is supporting the mental welfare of staff and students. Nearly a quarter of the University’s workforce has undergone Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid training, ensuring that QMU has more staff trained in mental health first aid than any other university in Scotland.
Maureen Watt, Minister for Mental Health and Shirley-Anne Somerville, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science were keen to learn how QMU is strengthening its student support and addressing the issue of mental health amongst its student population.
Dr Iliyan Stefanov, Head of Student Services at Queen Margaret University, has led the work on addressing the wellbeing and mental health challenge. He said: “We are determined to ensure that our young people’s prospects – and thus Scotland’s future economic and social success – are not blighted by unaddressed mental health issues.”
He explained: “Here at QMU we have been very clear that the significant challenges young people face in terms of mental ill health can only be tackled if we all work together and approach the issue in a holistic way. This has led us to establish a joint working group between the university and the Student Union that has produced a Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy that is both pro-active and stresses on prevention. On that basis, the University has invested in introducing a new Wellbeing Service and expanded our ResLife programme that assists students residing in QMU’s accommodation.
“A big role of the Wellbeing Service is the promotion of the NHS’ Five Ways of Mental Wellbeing initiative and the Healthy Body Healthy Mind initiative, the latter of which was led by the Students’ Union. QMU’s Wellbeing Service also runs our new Stay-on-Course programme that is designed to ensure early identification of students who may need support and to provide the right type of support services at the right time. This intervention helps students stay on track with their studies and promotes a positive student experience overall.”
QMU has also invested in the enhancement of the staff’s pastoral role by creating of a network of mental health first aiders. Dr Stefanov said: “We were really encouraged when so many staff put themselves forward for the programme. Within two years, more than twenty-three percent of staff completed Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid, as well as a number of students. Every department is now involved in some way in supporting our students’ health and wellbeing, whether that’s directly via our student services and academic teams or indirectly through our communications, finance, sports, accommodation, security or campus services teams. A successful bid to the Big Lottery Fund’s Young Start programme means that we will continue to increase the number of students going through the first aid programme.
Stewart Sands, President of Queen Margaret University’s Students Union, said: “With the growing demands of student life, where students are often dealing with academic study, paid work, family responsibilities and financial pressures, there is a real need for fully integrated mental health support. The Student’s Union has been pleased to lead on the establishment of
the joint working group with membership from the University, Student’s Union, National Union of Students Scotland and the NHS. All of our mental health work is focused on promotion, prevention and support, and our awareness events, such as our eating disorder week, are helping to engage students, as are our training programmes. We are proud of what has been achieved so far and will continue to build on this work, ensuring that students are provided with every opportunity to maintain positive health and wellbeing. Importantly, this work can be far reaching, with students, trained in mental health first aid, being able to support friends and family, as well as taking these new transferable skills to their future places of work.”