Started MHFA training
Staff trained so far
For one of the world’s highest ranking research universities, supporting the wellbeing of over 8,000 staff and 29,000 students over five campuses spread across the city is a vital undertaking. In a true whole university approach, their commitment to mental health is reflected at all levels, from resident wardens to PhD supervisors to the President and Principal.
Jo Levy is Head of Counselling (Outreach and Training) at King’s, and as a clinical psychotherapist she knows how crucial it is to take preventative action for mental ill health. Jo says: “75% of mental health issues start before the age of 18 so we have a lot of students coming in with pre-existing symptoms, needing support. If we can provide the right support for early intervention, students have a better outcome and can engage with their studies here, whether they have a diagnosis or not.”
The university's Counselling and Mental Health Support Team has seen a steady rise in demand over the last decade, a pattern seen across the sector1, and realised they needed to act to tackle stigma and increase access to support. In 2014 King’s signed the Time to Change Pledge as part of their new strategy for mental health.
“By delivering mental health training to all King’s staff, we hope to raise awareness across our whole community. By supporting our staff we will be better placed to support our students and to become world leaders in this area.”
The commitment comes right from the top as the university’s President and Principal, Professor Edward Byrne, is passionate about mental health: “At King’s we are committed to reducing stigma and discrimination around mental health. By delivering mental health training to all staff, we hope to raise awareness across our whole community. By supporting our staff we will be better placed to support our students and to become world leaders in this area.”
As part of the pledge, £500,000 in funding was allocated to expand mental health provision, supporting the introduction of a team of mental health practitioners and creating a wellbeing team to promote health across the university. “The head of the directorate had been on an MHFA course and thought it was most appropriate option out there for what we wanted to achieve university-wide,” says Jo, who leads on the provision of mental health training for the university.
It wasn’t hard to make the business case for the training: “We just looked at retention for staff and students. If by making Mental Health First Aiders available we can save even two students from dropping out, or even two members of staff from taking a sickness absence, we’re saving the university money.”
Jo and three of her colleagues went on the MHFA Instructor Training programme to qualify to deliver courses in-house. For the past two years they have run Adult MHFA Two Day and Half Day courses monthly, and are now rolling out the specialised Higher Education MHFA One Day course.
The training has been well-received and Jo and her colleagues have now trained over 650 staff from a range of departments across the university. “We have had a really good take up,” says Jo. “We started by offering the half day awareness course as we thought staff wouldn’t be able to spare the full two days to become a Mental Health First Aider. But it turned out there was a huge demand for the two day course and it has been fully booked with a waiting list ever since.”
The course is not mandatory for university staff as Jo and her team wanted people with an interest in learning to support their students and colleagues to sign up voluntarily. Student facing staff – library services, student services, administrators, personal tutors and supervisors - were encouraged by their heads of department to take the training for professional development in one of the key skills for their role.
Students attend the courses too, with welfare reps from student societies, peer supporters and resident wardens all taking a Mental Health Aware Half Day course as part of their induction training. “The wardens are on call in their halls of residence,” Jo explains, “so it’s really beneficial for them to have a grounding in a basic understanding of supporting mental health.”
Jo has had consistent feedback that the mixture of lived-experience film clips, group activities and presentations make the learning real and relatable. The courses are also bringing colleagues together around a subject that has been taboo in the workplace for too long. “You get people who work in the same department but have never spoken to each other until they are in my training room. They find themselves in a non-judgemental environment where they can speak openly about mental health, sometimes for the first time.”
King’s College London will continue to expand the work on staff and student mental health in 2019 as they draw up a new University Mental Health Charter. The Counselling and Mental Health Support Team are collaborating with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience to evaluate and develop existing programmes.
They are also in the process of developing their own training programme specific to King’s on Working with Students in Distress, which will initially be rolled out to all security and front-line staff.
“By informing, supporting and raising awareness around mental health for all King’s staff, we are then better equipped to support King’s students… and by looking after ourselves we increase our capacity to look after each other.”
The outlook at King’s is summarised by Stephanie Griffiths, the Associate Director of Counselling and Mental Health Support, who says: “By informing, supporting and raising awareness around mental health for all King’s staff, we are then better equipped to support King’s students, and by looking after ourselves we increase our capacity to look after each other.”
Jo shares this vision, and says her goal for the university is for “an environment where we can all talk as openly about mental health as we can about physical health. Where my colleagues wouldn’t think twice about telling me they are struggling.”
Watch the video showing Jo and her colleagues in action:
1 Universities UK, 2015: Student mental wellbeing in higher education: Good practice guide