“We are here because the challenge of addressing mental ill health in higher education is great. We aim to align with key organisations such as Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England in order to address it responsibly and successfully.”


Started MHFA training
September 2017

Staff trained so far
12

Formed in 2017 as part of Coventry University Group, CU London is taking the opportunity to lead a new ethos, one which encourages students and staff to value self-care and be more aware of their mental health throughout their time at university.

CU London is growing fast at their campus in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. The campus aims to create an educational environment that promotes both healthy lifestyles and economic prosperity in alignment with Barking and Dagenham’s ‘Borough Manifesto’ targets.

Why we started MHFA training

After overseeing the launch in Barking and Dagenham, Andy Ginn, Associate Pro Vice Chancellor at CU London knew that mental health would have to be high up on his agenda when creating a wellbeing strategy. One of the aims of providing staff with training in mental health skills and awareness was to build relationships between staff and students, helping people feel comfortable enough to talk about any issues or concerns.

“With CU London, we were able to fully play out the University Group mission, vision and values and we felt that training was the ideal way to embed personal wellbeing, a growth mindset and mental health awareness in the university.”

After training with mental health campaigner, Natasha Devon MBE, it became clear that although raising awareness with MHFA England’s Half Day course was a positive step for CU London, it was necessary to have staff fully trained as Mental Health First Aiders.

Andy explains, “I feel very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to implement a mental health policy from the ground up. With CU London, we were able to fully play out the University Group mission, vision and values and we felt that Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training was the ideal way to embed personal wellbeing, a growth mindset and mental health awareness across the CU London campus.”

CU London started by training ten percent of their workforce as Mental Health First Aiders on MHFA England’s Two Day course. Following the positive response, they decided to make the MHFA Half Day course available on a wider scale to raise the university’s mental health awareness.

Results

The training has been well received, with both staff and students reporting that they feel more at ease and open to seeking help with issues, be they personal or academic. With student satisfaction rates for the year at 96%, Andy feels confident that MHFA training has contributed to the supportive and inclusive learning atmosphere at CU London. Students give consistently encouraging feedback about their experiences at CU London, describing it as an ‘oasis’ of support.

“I could go to one of the Mental Health First Aiders and say, ‘Look I am struggling and I’m not sure what I should do now’ and see where they can guide me to.”

One student explains that she knows who to go to for support with her mental health: “I would go to my tutor as I know they wouldn’t have any judgement towards me and would help me the best they can. Even if I didn’t feel comfortable with my tutor, I could go to one of the Mental Health First Aiders and say, ‘Look I am struggling and I’m not sure what I should do now’ and see where they can guide me to. So, I think there’s enough support around the campus to open up . . . I’d suggest any student who is struggling seek help as soon as they can.”

There is parity between staff and student welfare: “We wanted it to be clear to staff where they can go for support too,” Andy says. The campus wellbeing hub is accessible to both students and staff, and working practices are set up to promote wellbeing. The ‘CU London Team Charter’ sets out that meetings are not scheduled across common break times, nor scheduled outside of core hours to respect people’s responsibilities outside of work, such as childcare. Staff are encouraged to propose location independent working wherever practicable, staff avoid out of hours emails and walking meetings are popular. There are free yoga sessions for staff and students, and the locally-based caterer, Cristina’s Kitchen, specialises in healthy eating.

What the future holds

With CU London seeing student growth after its first academic year, staff numbers will double. Andy has already planned more MHFA training for November 2018, and then periodically throughout the academic year.

The campus will be collaborating with the student union to provide MHFA training to anyone who requests it, and the courses will be promoted during the freshers’ fair and induction days. After seeing the benefits of mixed staff and student activities, there are plans to apply their MHFA skills in the form of lunch and learn events, open to everyone at the university.

To further their links with the local community CU London also plans to collaborate with local schools and colleges to help them reach their full potential. One key partner, the Barking and Dagenham School Improvement Partnership is already working out of the CU London campus and is ideally placed to promote MHFA training more widely across the whole Borough and beyond.

Having MHFA skills embedded into the CU London culture from the beginning has helped positive attitudes towards mental health to become standard and a natural part of CU London life for everyone.