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How can you create ‘headspace’?

06 Apr 2022 | Dr Dom Thompson As she looks forward to chairing the Advance HE Mental Wellbeing in HE conference (17 May), ‘Reading the Tea Leaves – Preparing for the Future of Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education’, Dr Dom Thompson shares her thoughts on the benefits of taking time out to attend an in person conference and ponders what might be discussed.

I am lucky enough to spend a lot of my time meeting the wonderful people who work in higher education supporting student and staff wellbeing, and I have seen how hard the last couple of years have been, but I also know that things were not that rosy before the pandemic. Students were struggling, resources were tight, the NHS wasn’t always able to help, and staff were up against it. Then came Covid-19!

Colleagues under pressure

In recent weeks, I have tried to support colleagues who are super-stressed, some in tears, and some feeling like every day is a battle. If this feels like a description of you, then you are definitely not alone, but it can feel lonely.

I am someone who likes to feel useful, so I listen to my colleagues, bounce ideas around, and try to suggest possible next steps, but it isn’t always enough. We are all working through particularly difficult times, and I really do believe that we have never needed support from each other more than we do at the moment. It’s one of the reasons I love working with the Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education team, all of whom are immersed in the world of student and staff welfare. We ‘get’ each other’s pressures (and yours!) and we want to offer something practical to help!

Red hot topics

We often discuss the topics that are most on our colleagues’ minds or take up most of their emotional reserves. I personally have been working a lot on suicide prevention, out of hours support, and staff wellbeing. These are some of the most demanding topics on people’s minds it seems, and getting ahead of the whole university community’s anxieties and mental health issues as a preventative population based approach also seems to be a sensible way forward, as well as a constant challenge.

It can be hard if you are working at the frontline of welfare to have the time to lift your head up from the daily problems and think about what’s coming down the line. People rarely reflect on what is happening elsewhere, and what they might like to do differently ‘if only they had the headspace to think about it’.

Maybe a day with colleagues might help? A one day conference that I like to think of as a ‘day of headspace’.

What’s in a day?

What difference can a day really make? It’s a day to meet old friends, of course, but also to hear new ideas, ask the questions you’ve been meaning to ask, check if that concept you thought of might work (test it out on those old friends!), and learn what your peers are doing around the UK and Ireland to support their students and colleagues.

Our fantastic panelists and keynotes will have new things to say (even if they don’t have all the answers of course) and they will get people talking, thinking, and asking questions. They will hopefully make you feel excited and enthused, leave you wondering what you might try next, or reassured that you are on the right track.

A natural ‘high’?

Coming to an in-person conference can feel like an effort (and even a bit of a health risk) in 2022, but it has so many benefits that we decided this year to go for it and pick an accessible, central UK venue, ready to welcome back our colleagues and take the time to talk, share experiences and reconnect.

I can’t be the only one that feels an actual ‘high’ from meeting people again and having time to laugh and share support! Can I??

So what next?

I think we need each other and each other’s insights more than ever, and I genuinely look forward to sharing some of the things I have learned reviewing student suicide prevention around the UK, or overhauling out-of-hours support, and I can’t wait to hear what others have been working on too.

It’s been a rocky couple of years and just surviving can’t be enough, surely. So I’m here to tell you that there are new ideas and inspiration out there, if you can just take a day to create some headspace! See you soon.


Dr Dominique Thompson is an award winning GP, young people's mental health expert, TEDx speaker, author and educator, with two decades of clinical experience. She is author of The Student Wellbeing Series, and co-author of How to Grow a Grown Up. Dom has done two TEDx talks; ‘What I learnt from 78000 GP consultations with university students’  and ‘Understanding Why’. She is a Clinical Advisor for NICE and Student Minds, a lead clinical advisor for Aardman Animation’s What’s Up with Everyone? campaign, and for Being Well, Living Well Epigeum.

Further information about Dom can be found at and

Mental Wellbeing in HE Conference 2022 (17 May): Reading the Tea Leaves - Preparing for the Future of Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education.

Delivered in collaboration with the Mental Wellbeing in HE Expert Group, this one-day conference will address issues of mental wellbeing across all aspects of higher education. It will explore established and successful examples from the sector, share good practice, discuss the challenges when looking at mental health and wellbeing, and review ways to overcome possible difficulties. Find out more here.


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