As a personal tutor with pastoral as well as academic responsibility for a group of students, I took advantage of an online CPD session on mental health run by colleagues from the University disability office and counselling service. This was principally to refresh my skills and understanding but as always with these things, there were new things we were challenged to think about.
The mental health continuum
One of these was the mental health continuum, a helpful way of thinking about how people may have a range of mental health from good to bad, yet also be somewhere between ill and not ill: it is possible for people to be ill and yet who seem to be coping well with it: perhaps by using strategies or medication to help them manage and function. Equally, people who are not ill may be suffering with stress or as a consequence of life events. I find this little device (my quick sketch above) great to normalise the range of health people may have and to help keep this idea to the fore when talking to tutees in future.
We were reminded of the range of support services available in the University for students: I have experience of these from several years of supporting students on the very intensive experience that PGDE can be, some of whom have brought with them their own stories and experiences and who have needed continuing support. This has not always been optimal in my experience, where specialist services are required but I do know that in the main, my colleagues in places like the Chaplaincy and the disability service have done and continue to do, superb work on behalf of the students. Where the resources of the University are limited, we were advised that things like private counselling may be available on the students’ parents’ health insurance, for example.
Where the limits of support are reached, it can be easy to characterise the support offered as being part of “the illusion of inclusion” (cf. “ethics washing”, see this post for details). This may be cynical: the University is rich but it wouldn’t last long if every student drew too heavily on its resources. I am put in mind of the old caveat1:
“… in serving a friend or Brother in time of need, without detriment to ourselves or connections.”
As always, we do our best, whether those we serve realise it or not. As part of that, our skills need to be at least good enough not to make things worse: so, this course included reminders about using non-verbal skills of engagement and listening; of not reacting; of respecting boundaries. The advice included lessons from the past year, paying attention, for example, when talking to students online to look at the camera, not their eyes on your screen. I came to this awareness early last year because I often use two screens, and situate the conference window on the display that has the camera. It is easy to let the tech fool you into a misalignment with the other person’s reality.
The session overran, unfortunately, which meant that a number of us had to bail before it ended, but there was time to engage with a couple of (fictionalised) case studies, which was helpful. It was valuable, nonetheless, and will hopefully help me support my continuing students and the new cohort arriving in August.
From the Working Tools of the Entered Apprentice, Emulation Lodge of Improvement. (2015). Emulation Ritual (13th ed.). Lewis Masonic. ↩