After the last two years of learning to live with COVID-19, I think we have all become aware of the importance of mental wellbeing both for ourselves and our students. The UTS Centre for Social Justice & Inclusion (CSJI) has developed a new mental health strategy to ensure it’s a priority for the UTS community. So, I caught up with Arif Ongu, Equity & Diversity Officer at CSJI to hear more about the health strategy and staff survey (currently open to all staff, and closing on Monday 16 May). 

What does mental wellbeing for students look like? 

Mental wellbeing looks like an environment which allows students to thrive and maintain a sense of control and agency in their learning. It’s about giving students a sense of being in control in their learning and what’s happening for them. 

We need to recognise the aspects of the student experience that are not beneficial to their mental health or is actually causing them distress and harm. 

What should staff do if they know of a student who might need support for their mental wellbeing? 

The best thing to do is to talk to the student about the services that are available, which is the UTS Counselling Service. They should assure the student that it’s free and confidential and won’t jeopardise their academic outcomes in any way. 

If there’s a situation where there’s a concern for the safety or wellbeing of the student, and the student is reluctant to reach out to counselling then academic staff should reach out to the Counselling Service directly. The Counselling Services does reach out to students and say we’ve just been informed by one of the academics that, you might be having a hard time in this space and actively contact the students. 

It’s really important that we actually do something, and that we take proactive action. 

Tell me a bit about the mental health strategy? 

The mental health strategy outlines our commitment to creating a community and environment that contributes to strengthening and supporting the mental health of all of us. It’s been adopted by the Provost, and now I am working on the implementation plan. 

The strategy itself has got things like:  

  • Develop engaging curricular learning experiences in partnership with students 
  • Develop assessment tools that are flexible 
  • Facilitate collaboration  
  • Review policies and procedures 
  • Empower and excite the love of learning for our students 

What are the goals of the mental health strategy? 

One of the points of the strategy is to support staff to support students with mental health needs. So improving the mental health literacy of the community, providing mental first aid training, making mental health awareness training mandatory, providing self-care training for staff and students, and making sure that there’s mental health information available at all UTS events. Creating resources that have information about connecting students with external services, mindfulness training, self-care, self-compassion, stress management, and ensuring that appropriate funding is given to services. 

The strategy is designed to give a little bit of the responsibility of creating that mentally healthy environment to all parts of the university. It is important that mental health becomes embedded in the culture and the practice, as opposed to us doing little things to try to make it more accepted. 

How can staff participate in the mental health survey?

I want to ensure that everybody in the UTS community has an opportunity to say what they think is going to be effective and useful, to make sure everyone has a voice. And then all of the findings from that survey will then be incorporated into the implementation plan. 

Professional and academic staff can complete the Mental Health Staff Survey now, with the survey closing on Monday 16 May. 

How can UTS staff help contribute to a culture where mental wellbeing is promoted? 

Mainly for students, their primary contact with UTS staff is through their learning. So it’s academic staff. It would include things like, making sure that there are multiple options for assessments that are going to meet the needs of the different people, different students in a group and be flexible and not exacerbate anyone’s mental health issues. 

We’ve got to make sure that we provide some capacity building to staff to give them the tools and resources and skills to know how to do that. 

Feature image by Dua Chuot.

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