Digital Toolkit for Staff to Help Support Students’ Mental Health

A resource for supporting students who may be experiencing mental health challenges

January 18, 2018

When I was an academic advisor I met with a lot of students who I referred to the university counseling center. While not trained as a counselor, I've had counseling classes and knew enough to recommend a visit to speak with a professional counselor/psychologist.

Identifying students who may be facing mental health challenges isn't easy, especially if you're not trained to do so. In 2016/2017, AMOSSHE (the association for university student services practitioners in the UK), provided funding for a digital toolkit to help support students' mental health.

Created at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) in Scotland, the online toolkit is a resource “for all higher education staff to help them identify and support students who may be experiencing mental health challenges. The toolkit includes resources aimed at staff who teach and/or work with distance learning students, whose interactions chiefly occur online.”

A version of the mental health toolkit can be found online on a staff resources website at UHI.

The mental health conditions toolkit (as named on the UHI website) provides insight into mental health conditions as well as a collection of wellbeing warning signs. Toolkit content is separated into information for either face-to-face student interactions or for online students.

The primary aims and objectives of the toolkit are:

This will enhance the experiences of students with mental health conditions as staff increase their knowledge and confidence. This may contribute to student retention and recruitment by enabling universities to show commitment to supporting students with mental health conditions face-to-face and online across the sector, including at UHI’s distributed tertiary institution. This will also contribute to the sector’s good practice and contribute to a university’s duty of care to students.

Currently, there are plans to distribute the toolkit on a variety of UHI digital channels, at least one journal, AMOSSHE's website, the National Union of Students (NUS), UHI's students' association (HISA), and it was presented at the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Enhancement Conference in 2017.

Going forward, the team that worked on the toolkit recommends that “more research on support for online students should be undertaken, including interviews with students themselves, to refine and develop appropriate support mechanisms.”

It might also be beneficial to include a search function so that users of the toolkit could find information based on keywords.

Additionally, as it is well known that social media play a role in both positive and negative mental health issues - e.g. “Why Instagram might be affecting your mental health (and what you can do about it)” - a section related to digital engagement/usage should be incorporated into the toolkit.


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