Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of tertiary students during COVID-19 - Batyr

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Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of tertiary students during COVID-19

March 18, 2020

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As information around Coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues to develop, batyr wants to provide support to the universities and tertiary education institutions significantly impacted at this time.

Students across Australia are increasingly having to come to terms with social isolation, and this is bringing with it increased levels of anxiety and stress.

International students in particular, experience culture shock, family distance,  financial pressures and low-help seeking when relocating to Australia. Delays to the university year, quarantine and racism resulting from the onset of COVID-19 are seen to be further heightening these impacts

batyr knows that a large amount of pressure is placed on staff to find ways to support students during these times. It can feel overwhelming and, at times, can become overcomplicated.

Some simple steps you can take include:

  • Clear and positive communication
  • Leaning into community
  • Allowing flexibility where possible
  • Promoting help-seeking services on and off campus
  • Considering what you can do for yourself

Clear and positive Communication

  • Being conscious of how we talk about COVID-19: What is often seen in the media and our social feeds contributes to fear and negativity. Providing clear information in a positive way to staff and students can reassure those around us, who may be really concerned about the uncertainty of the situation. You might be the first person speaking about this period of time in a calm and positive way, and this can make a world of difference. There is a list of COVID-19 Q&A’s from the World Health Organisation (WHO) you can access to arm yourself with accurate and up-to-date info.
  • Hold a webinar or Q&A platform: When situations like this arise, people tend to have a lot of questions around how the university is dealing with the issue. Being transparent and having space for Q&A helps to reassure students and the community that the university is taking it seriously.
  • Distribute a mental health resource: Develop resources that highlight common emotional reactions, such as fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and ways in which this can be managed. This distribution should be through multiple channels and ongoing as impacts will be long-lasting. This includes:
    • Maintaining a balance between staying informed and taking breaks from the news/social media
    • Practicing self-care
    • Staying connected with friends and family
    • Knowing which services to reach out to
  • Be attuned to racial discrimination: Implement a clear escalation process to respond swiftly, professionally and sensitively in the event of racial discrimination. Promote student equity groups at the university and inclusive language to bridge communities together.
  • Staff and peer mentor training: Staff and peer mentors are on the front lines of potential fall out and concern from students. Ensuring both staff and student mentors are trained to provide clarity and reassurance on the university’s position and response will help to minimise the potential of adding to fear and uncertainty. 

Leaning into the Community

  • Engagement through class platforms: Check in with students through class platforms and offer support through connecting students with wellbeing support, on and off campus. In times of closures, post resources, positive articles and self-care information on platforms to help with engagement. 
  • Promote peer to peer support: Encourage students to look out for their friends during these times and encourage them to reach out for support if someone is having a hard time. 
  • Stay connected: For those students in isolation and off-campus, encourage them to stay connected with friends, family and classmates through online platforms such as Skype, WeChat and other forms of social media. 
  • Connect with student groups, clubs or societies on campus: Empower these groups to support other students on campus and promote peer to peer support. Encourage student unions to host online events which bridge different student communities and increase social connectivity even if they are online.

Flexibility where possible

  • Let students know how they can access academic supports: Deferring subjects, deadline extensions and flexible cut off dates where possible can help students cope with the added pressures.
  • Consider offering online courses to students remotely: Promote resources on how to use portals such as Blackboard and Echo. Students who are working from isolation can find these portals frustrating if they are unfamiliar and may need guidance.
  • Communicate in languages other than English where possible: Promote phone, or in person, interpreting services that are available and how/where to access them.

Encouraging help-seeking 

  • You don’t have to have all the answers: Encouraging students to reach out for support if needed can make a big difference. The following services can assist in wellbeing support throughout this time: 
    • Lifeline (13 11 14): 24/7 Crisis Support telephone hotline. 
    • Headspace, e-headspace: Offers mental health literacy, online support with a mental health professional and in person drop in centres. 
    • University Counselling and Psychology Clinics: Lets students know where the university’s counselling and psychological services are located on campus. During university closures, find out if services are still available. 
    • GP: Most students aren’t aware that GP’s are also mental health professionals. They can go to their GP for support and ask for a mental health care plan which enables people up to 10 free or subsidised sessions in a calendar year.
  • Keep an eye out specifically for vulnerable groups: International students experience lower rates of help-seeking, increases in stigmatised attitudes, language barriers and a loss of regular support structures. Being aware of culturally specific groups and language used when talking about mental health can help. The Government has created a hotline specific for international students who have questions about their health or education, in relation to CoronaVirus:
    • Ph: (+61) 1300 981 621 (8am – 8pm Monday to Friday): These centres offer bilingual language support and can refer students to counselling services in language other than English.
    •  After hours email: [email protected]

Look after yourself

It can feel like a lot of pressure to navigate the uncertainty we’re facing while continuing to provide academic and wellbeing support to your students. Remember to take time for yourself to recharge and be sure to reach out for support if you need it.

Research shows that breaks and self-care increases productivity and success. Now is the time to put into practice and do what we can to look out for each other. Focus on the things we can control and remember we are all in this together. 

Check out more tips on how you can manage your mental health and wellbeing during this time check out.