Supporting students and their mental health
Jock Downie, Safeguarding Officer, City College Norwich
It’s that time again as the gates open at City College Norwich and we welcome in several thousand students. For some it is the second or third year of study for others it’s the first time at a college. Some will be doing a full time course, some part time. There will be those who come to study academic subjects and those who are here for a practical vocation.
Sitting at the very heart of the college’s main building is the Wellbeing Zone, a place of support and advice for any student. This is a place designed to be a space to take some time out from the hustle and bustle of the college day, it’s light and airy and full of plants and comfy sofas – a refuge for the mind. There are stands crammed full of wellbeing information about local services, groups and charities. For those who feel like talking, there is always an advisor or counsellor on hand and ready to listen to whatever needs to be said. And at the start of the year there can be a lot that needs to be said…
While many students start the year full of hope and belief, others start with a feeling that they must meet others’ expectations. What some people find exciting and stimulating, others can find scary and too much. And when some approach each new class looking to expand their social circle, others are left feeling that they are yet again on the sidelines.
Talking helps. That’s why the Wellbeing Zone is here. We know how crucial those first few weeks can be. Having a place to feel safe and see a friendly face, who will sit and listen over a cup of tea, can really make a difference.
After the first few weeks pass by and people fall into their routines that will last the academic year, we see a second wave of students using the Wellbeing Zone. This time it’s students with a wide range of issues; housing, relationships, debt, drugs, depression, anxiety, abuse, harassment, self-harm or eating disorders. They have all reached the point where the college feels safe, a place where they have the confidence that they will be supported, listened to and believed. Sometimes academic staff bring students to see us, other times it’s a friend, or some students come by themselves. However they come to us, it’s always an incredible thing – that first time they say “I’m not ok and I need support” is the moment they start their journey to recovery.
Sometimes that journey might need more than we can offer in the Wellbeing Zone. That’s why we work closely with the NHS Wellbeing Service and a range of local groups and charities to make the best referrals for our students.
The support we provide to improve a student’s mental health helps keep them on their courses, which helps them succeed at what they want to do, which in turn makes a positive impact on their mental health.