The University of Edinburgh has announced plans to provide all Personal Tutors with mental health training within the next 18 to 24 months.
Professor Alan F. Murray, Assistant Principal for Academic Support at The University of Edinburgh and Head of the Institute for Bio-engineering, told The Student:”I’m delighted that the University has found the financial resources to support a pretty rapid and comprehensive programme of training for PTs and also for student support staff (eg Student Support Officers, SSOs, in Schools).”
“Experienced Personal Tutors have generally acquired a good understanding of mental health and are good at talking to students who are distressed and perhaps heading toward mental unwellness. Those newer to the PT role may not have encountered mental health problems, however. In addition, mental health is the area that most PTs, new or experienced, feel most nervous about – and worried about saying or doing the wrong thing – perhaps making the problem worse.” he continued.
The training may help to alleviate some of the stress put on the university counselling service, which is currently greatly oversubscribed, receiving approximately 100 referrals per week. There has been a 75 per cent increase in demand over the last three years, and waiting times currently stand at eight weeks, with a six session counselling cap.
Murray acknowledged the rising concerns for mental health amongst Edinburgh students. “We’ve been aware for some time that mental health issues… have been rising steadily in our students. This maybe an increase in the incidence of mental health problems, better diagnosis or simply less embarrassment about reporting what is often, sadly, still a taboo illness,” he told The Student.
The plans are a result of an agreement made between the university and Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) , in an initiative spearheaded by Andrew Peel, Vice President of Services and Activities.
Peel told The Student: “The purpose of the training is to provide [Personal Tutors] with the key basic knowledge to know what to do when a student presents to them in crisis.”
“We are aware that not all students will present to a [Personal Tutor], therefore, going forward we will also be pushing for all staff to be trained”, Peel continued.
Peel told The Student that these provisions would have a positive impact on students’ mental health: “Its important for personal tutors because currently they don’t have those basic skills, many of them feel overwhelmed by the prospect of a student presenting in crisis and its important they have the skills and training to know what to do in that situation so that the right decisions are made for our students.”
Peel expressed hope that the changes would make students feel more comfortable opening up about mental health problems. “It will hopefully mean that students have more confidence in seeking help and speaking to their Personal Tutor when they are finding things difficult.” he told The Student.
Peel also clarified that this mental health training for Personal Tutors would not be expected to replace or supplement the current counselling service: “We are not asking [personal tutors] or any staff to be expert counsellors. That is not their role. But they do have a role in students welfare and its important they have the basic skills and knowledge to know what to do when a student presents.”
Murray repeated these sentiments: “The primary aim is to train everyone in what I tend to call “mental health first aid”. There’s no way that [Personal Tutors] and SSOs should be attempting to diagnose and deal with problems themselves” he told The Student, “but we all need to be able to listen effectively, to say some useful things and to help a student to find the right sort of advice or treatment as quickly as possible.”
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