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Break the Cycle: Access to mental health services at ARU

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As part of the Break The Cycle Campaign I am working on a project in regards to access to mental health services. I believe that access to mental health services and resources needs to be better at ARU. I will be looking at how accessible and available is the current service at the university and pushing the university to offer more support to those hard to reach students.

The university has rightfully taken steps to alleviate the implications of mental health issues through the implementation of the new wellbeing strategy and the introduction of their wellbeing walls around campus. Whilst these wellbeing walls do have some great flyers and resources, having more flyers around campus is not enough and does not mean students are accessing more help and support. How are the universities support systems reaching distant learners? Commuter students? Placement students? Students, who have accessibility issues? Out of hours support, term time and out of term time?? There are so many students who cannot access the current service that ARU provides.

This is why I am pushing for the university to consider implementing a peer to peer support network known as Big White Wall[1].

Following on from the Let’s Be Honest report[2] in 2015. There were several recommendations that the students’ union gave to the university to strengthen university services on mental health. After looking at what ARU provides and the recommendations I realised that there were loads the university have not fully completed or had even started to complete. The recommendations from the report that have not been done or sufficiently carried out are as followed:

  • Recommendation 1: ARU should explore investment in alternative online support for students

We are aware that the university currently offers the services from Slivercloud[3]. The officer team believe that the service is just not enough in order to tackle the prevention of mental health issues and concerns. CBT (cognitive based testing) does not work for everyone and with only 4 modules being offered out of a service that can provide 30 different modules – are ARU really making the most of this current offering?

  • Recommendation 2: Increase the resources directed to the Counselling and Wellbeing Service, specifically to include the ability to offer different types of intervention.

Big White wall (BWW) is another form of intervention and support, it is an online platform that can be accessed 24/7, 7days a week . It would offer support to those who cannot just rely on and use resilience training or cognitive based testing. BWW is monitored by GP and counsellors which is useful and safe for students who may use this resource out of hours.

  • Recommendation 3: Support the creation of peer support groups for vulnerable students with mental health difficulties.
  • Recommendation 4: Provide more information to all students before they start university and early on in their university career on the mental health support that is available, as well as targeting information towards vulnerable student groups.

Students could be using Big White Wall before even arriving at the university via the university registration process, so the service is made available to them straight away before it is too late and they are already embedded in the course/university life.

  • Recommendation 5: Ensure that students intermitting from their studies are set up with mental health support during that period if they need it.
  • Recommendation 6: Increase the availability/flexibility of support from the Counselling and Wellbeing Service for students who are on placement, who are commuting from afar, or who have more intense course timetables.

Implementing Big White Wall would mean that students could access the mental health support, sessions and forums that they need whilst intermitting as well as those students on placement, distance learners, commuters and disabled student, who through no fault of their own, may struggle to get onto campus. Having dual access to Slivercloud and Big White Wall means extra support and varied online support due to the two online resources offering different things. This is increasing access to support and offering alternative forms of support. 

Other universities in the country have already started to make the first step at tackling mental health by using the Big White Wall as well as Slivercloud in conjunction with one another. These include, but are not limited to, University of Liverpool, Keele University, Queen Mary’s University, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Kings College London, University of Aberdeen and The University of Greenwich. A progressive university such as ARU should be amongst these universities listed.

We must be confident to say that ARU is taking mental health in all forms seriously by providing and offering as much as it can to the students within the institution. 

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