7 steps to improving graduate & student mental health

Aug 11, 2020 | Diversity

Tessa McEwan from Developing Talent shares tips from our webinar on how to support student and graduate mental health.

1. Include the development of skills that prevent future ill health

Mental health is a spectrum ranging from flourishing, to moderate, to languishing to experiencing mental ill health. There has been significant progress made over recent years for those experiencing mental ill health, such as mental health first aiders and employee assistance programmes to help when people are in crisis.

Huge strides have also been made in awareness raising and reducing stigma. However there exists a real opportunity to develop skills in graduates and students that prevent mental health issues and to help them respond positively when they are beginning to struggle. A proactive approach that protects early talent from future mental health illness provides an average of £6 return for every £1 spent (Deloitte).

2. Introduce evidence based approaches proven to reduce anxiety and depression

There are many well-researched methods to choose from, including cognitive based approaches, evidence based mindfulness, positive psychology, and lifestyle advice. Use tried and tested approaches that have been researched to be safe and effective and use suitably qualified experts to deliver them. Using scientifically researched techniques will increase the success of the programme.

3. Offer a toolkit of approaches

Allow early talent to explore a range of tools and techniques to investigate what works for them. Encourage curiosity about different approaches so that individuals can develop their own bespoke mental fitness plan. No single approach is likely to work for everyone.

4. Raise self-awareness to enable real and sustainable change

This is key to unlocking the unconscious beliefs and thinking patterns that drive individuals’ behaviour. When I am coaching early talent, there is often a light bulb moment when they see how this ‘automatic’ thinking affects their lives. That understanding allows a broader perspective on what choices they have and the motivation to make positive changes.

5. Understand how new habits are created

Whilst people often find experimenting with ways to improve their mental health or resilience beneficial and even enjoyable, creating sustainable habits takes time and practice. To learn healthier ways of thinking and acting requires repetition and support. Weave mental health skills development into the whole programme rather than thinking of it as a standalone intervention. Include techniques like habit stacking to make new behaviours stick.

6. Use positive language to position your initiative

Make it appealing and accessible to as many people as possible. Mental health stigma, shame, fear, embarrassment, or pride may make individuals feel reluctant to attend. Using terminology such as mental fitness or mental strength can help early talent see how this is similar to physical exercise to keep physically healthy – it is as much about prevention as cure. Also consider how to answer the sceptics’ challenges by referring to data and evidence.

7. Measure the impact of your initiative to understand the benefits

Evaluate the success of the programme to understand what impact it is having by using both quantitative and qualitative measures. Consider using wellbeing and resilience questionnaires, such as the Connor Davidson Resilience Scale, before and after the intervention to understand the return on investment. It is also important to gather qualitative feedback to understand the real impact on individuals’ lives. This will also enable you to identify the wider benefits of such a programme beyond wellbeing, such as improved ability to think clearly and be creative.

Tessa is joined by Rachael Collins (University of Liverpool), Tracy Foot (Simmons & Simmons) and Josh Farquharson (Simmons & Simmons) in ISE webinar Help students and graduates improve their mental health and resilience

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