Supporting student welfare
This year’s symposium from the British Psychological Society's Division of Academics, Researchers and Teachers in Psychology focused on safeguarding student wellbeing in education. We know that the majority (around three-quarters) of mental health problems have begun by the age of 18, and increasing numbers of university students are presenting with conditions such as anxiety and depression. Current government work is placing emphasis upon addressing mental health in young people through school initiatives. Helen Kitching (Gildredge House School) has been trialling Stress Well for Schools, a whole school approach to mental health for 11-18 year olds, developed by former teacher Nicola Morgan. Although the content is promising, time pressures on school staff mean that implementation is difficult and it requires high levels of trust to be developed between staff and pupils.
With Rebecca Lucas (University of Roehampton), I have evaluated the effectiveness of specialist mentoring, a form of support often recommended by Disability Needs Assessors for young people with mental health conditions and/or autism when they start university. Mentees and mentors in a single university setting rated the individual support to be effective across a range of domains, and both quantitative and qualitative data showed that the quality and nature of the mentor-mentee relationship is key.
The strength of the relationship alliance was also central in research by Lisa Matthewman (University of Westminster) into peer coaching. Students on her skills-based module on the psychology of coaching and mentoring undertook 12 hours of reciprocal coaching with their classmates. Phenomenological analysis of open data from a purposive sample revealed that students found it a supportive process, which helped them to develop self-awareness and cognitive skills such as problem solving. Outcomes were felt to be facilitated by trust, empathy, and positive regard in the coaching relationship.
Victoria Bourne (Royal Holloway, University of London) focused upon statistics anxiety, a prevalent problem amongst new psychology students which is linked to poorer academic performance and increased worrying. Regression analysis of measures completed by first year psychology students found that trait anxiety is a vulnerability for statistics anxiety, whereas enjoyment of maths and confidence in mathematic ability are protective factors. Students will be pleased to know that she recommended making sure statistics courses are enjoyable.
Jacqui Taylor presented work led by Michele Salvagno during his PhD (both University of Bournemouth) into the impact of ubiquitous connectivity upon student wellbeing. A constructivist grounded theory approach with staff and student data identified that excessive reliance upon technology and information overload can cause stress, and decrease students’ motivation to attend lectures. Positive effects of technology included feelings of freedom and control around work and information, and connectedness with fellow students.
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