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Feature article: Helping your students to look after their mental health

This article was originally published by Ashley Willcox on LX at UTS. You can subscribe to the LX at UTS newsletter for learning and teaching blog posts, helpful resources and more.

Ashley was a valued member of the NCSEHE video blogging team during 2020, sharing her practical knowledge to help other students overcome the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On a recent phone call to a friend, they expressed concerns about their child potentially dropping out of university due to their anxiety. I suggested there is so much support available that the student could get if they reached out to the UTS Counselling service, got extensions or special consideration; or even registered with Accessibility to support them and alleviate the pressure they were feeling.

That conversation inspired this blog post about how academics can assist students in their class that may have anxiety. It is an uncertain time for many students now and creating supportive classroom environments is a priority for caring for the emotional needs of students.

Student mental health can go under the radar, especially if we’re on Zoom with our cameras turned off, so it needs to be made a priority.

Place students at the centre

Creating a classroom environment where students feel safe and supported to ask questions and have their responses validated can make a huge difference to their wellbeing and academic journey.

The recently launched Australian University Mental Health Framework comes at a critical time, as many students are being affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The creators of the framework assert that “successful participation in university education can act as a protective factor for mental health and can support recovery from an experience of mental ill health”. Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing.

Tips that can help make life easier for your students

  • Encourage students to be organised and create a calendar that incorporates study dates, class timetable, time for exercise, meditation and free time.
  • Be kind and friendly so students feel safe to ask questions.
  • Collaboration can be very effective as students may feel isolated. Group work, breakout rooms and the opportunity to connect with peers can be very uplifting.
  • ADCET’s page on engaging online students who experience high anxiety offers many practical strategies for students.
  • Remind students the joy of studying is being lifelong learners and the subjects can help develop useful skills to enhance their careers.
  • Your patience can really improve student experience.
  • Actively engage your students in the class work – demonstrate how to attempt tasks and encourage students to be interactive and contribute ideas.
  • Encourage students to find and focus on topics they are interested in as this leads to increased concentration and better grades.
  • For students with English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D), be conscious that they may need more flexibility, as well as time and detailed examples to increase their understanding of the subject. Remember to use plain language as much as possible to ensure your subject is accessible for all students.

UTS services for mental health support

Tips and tools for taking care of your mental health

Adapted from Beyond Blue’s tips for managing back-to-work anxiety

  • Call 000 if you or someone else is in immediate danger.
  • Otherwise, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24/7 counselling and support. NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 (24 hours).
  • Log onto eHeadspace from 9am to 1am to chat to a clinician.
  • If you think a friend or loved one needs help, check out the Black Dog Institute, Head to Health or Headspace for support.
  • Q Life LGBTIQA+ free support via telephone and webchat.

Posted 19 July 2021 Posted in General

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