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Module 1: Mental Health

What do we mean by Mental Health needs?

In many ways, mental health is just like physical health: everybody has it and we need to take care of it.

Good mental health means being generally able to think, feel and react in the ways that you need and want to live your life. But if you go through a period of poor mental health you might find the ways you’re frequently thinking, feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with. This can feel just as bad as a physical illness, or even worse.

Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year. They range from common problems, such as depression and anxiety, to rarer problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Two male students deep in conversation

Mental health, defined by the World Health Organization, is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

So, the term mental health describes a sense of wellbeing. It implies the capacity to live in a resourceful and fulfilling manner, having the resilience to deal with the challenges and obstacles that life and studying present to students.

Estimates suggest that each year one in four of the population experiences a mental health difficulty with one in six adults experiencing “a common mental health problem” each week in the UK according to the Mental Health Foundation (Fundamental Facts about Mental Health, 2016). And these figures carry across into the student population in Higher Education and may even have increased in recent years.  

Depression, stress and anxiety are the most common types of mental illness experienced by students, and it is common for students to lack confidence and have low self-esteem or face challenges with anxiety, despite having the same full range of intellectual abilities as the population as a whole.

In the higher education learning environment, research suggests that there are a range of important determinants of student health and well-being and these include:

  • Social connectedness via opportunities for social interaction
  • Belonging – an opportunity to make a valued contribution
  • Positive self-esteem
  • Positive classroom culture
  • Empowerment
  • Autonomy over workload
  • Levels of engagement in learning
  • Resilience
  • Instructor/tutor support
  • Access to information and resources

All these elements contribute to a student’s experience of learning and these “…can have either a positive or a negative impact on health and well-being and there is evidence from the elementary, secondary schools and higher education settings that classroom culture, course design, curriculum, assessment, assignments, physical spaces and instructors themselves may all have the ability to impact student well-being(Stanton, 2019)

“It is widely accepted that health and well-being are essential elements for effective learning” (El Ansari & Stalk, 2010, p. 2) and that a successful student experience can in turn support better mental health and wellbeing. Therefore, teaching staff have a key role to play in creating the conditions within which students with mental health difficulties can thrive and achieve their academic goals. 

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