carnegieXchange: School of Sport

The role of the academic and student mental health

As an academic who researches mental health, the news story and corresponding report (Hughes et al. 2018) on student mental health and the role of the academic, really resonated with me.

Key points raised in the report are that academics:

  • are unprepared for student’s approaches on mental health,
  • have an ambiguous role with respect to mental health,
  • provide support they’re not trained for
  • are disconnected from student services,
  • own mental health can be influenced by their student’s mental health.

Some of these reasons promoted me to attend a Mental Health First Aid course provided by our well-being team in November. Interestingly, I was the only academic on the course; the other were either in administrative roles or in HR.

The one-day course was an excellent use of time. It helped me to overcome some of the issues raised in the report such as feeling more prepared and confident when students do discuss their mental health; having some training to provide support and connecting with student services. Furthermore, staff mental health was also addressed, with tips on what signs to look out for in both staff and students. Even though I have some experience of working with people with mental health problems, I came away with more confidence, understanding and knowledge of referral.

Here are three top tips I picked up on the day:

  1. Avoid asking students why (e.g., Why aren’t you attending?). Instead, ask how they are.
  2. Don’t avoid talking about mental health – you’re not going to make the problem worse by talking.
  3. Refer students to as well as the student well-being team.

For myself and many others, discussing mental health with students has always been something we take seriously; it is central to personal tutoring. However, having the confidence, the knowledge and sometimes the inclination to discuss mental health can be challenging. Yet, as the report highlights, students often come to us in the first instance, whether or not it’s part of our remit. Therefore, I can recommend this course for upskilling yourself.

From a different, business, perspective, if mental health and well-being can be enhanced in students, academic performance and student retention could also benefit. At Edge Hill University, where they offer Mental Health First Aid Training to their sport and physical activity students, NSS, retention and employability have all improved since introducing training in mental health (Student Minds, nd).

Therefore, in my view, doing mental health training is win-win. Oh, and you also get a nice big reference book so you can top up on tips any time.


Dr Jackie Hargreaves

Senior Lecturer / Carnegie School Of Sport
Jackie is Module Leader for exercise psychology and physical activity modules. She is interested in a number of research areas relating to exercise psychology. Specific interest lies in exploring how physical activity can be beneficial for mental health.

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