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Developing Bespoke Mental Health Training Relevant to Staff Roles

As part of the Advance HE Small Development Projects 2019, focusing on the mental health and wellbeing of students, the University of Derby developed a short film demonstrating the impact of a bespoke mental health staff training programme. Jo Jones, Student Services Manager, details the project below.

The film details the creation of an effective programme of training for changing culture and organisational practice in support of better mental health and wellbeing for students and staff. The film highlights, via contributions from a wide range of staff, the process we underwent to develop the training, key lessons learned, the pedagogical approach we took, our learning outcomes and the impact on staff, behaviour and culture. The film also outlines the importance of cross-institutional co-operation in ensuring that approaches to mental health are both practical and truly ‘whole university.’

How the training evolved

The University of Derby’s programme of staff training for mental health was built on evidence and good practice from the literature and from our own research.

Research that we conducted in partnership with Student Minds and King's College London, (Student Mental Health: The Role and Experiences of Academics) identified that, for many students experiencing difficulties, academics are often the first point of contact but many academics feel ill-equipped to respond effectively.

It indicated that generic mental health training can be ineffective and may do little to change practice on the ground. To ensure that staff training is effective, responses must therefore, be bespoke to each specific role.

In response, the University of Derby designed and implemented a new programme of training for all staff across the University, which was specific and relevant to their role. We began with the following areas:

  • The Estates team
  • First responders
  • Professional services staff
  • Union of Students
  • Halls of Residence
  • Academics
  • Senior Management

Want to find out more?

To learn more about our past Small Development Projects, visit our archive.

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Academics and mental health

The findings of our research led to the creation of a Mental Health syllabus for academic staff.

The Academics and Student Mental Health Programme is a cohesive programme of six modules that, on completion, will result in a University Award:

  1. Student Mental Wellbeing (Taster Session)
  2. Student Mental Wellbeing & Personal Academic Tutoring
  3. Mental Wellbeing and Learning
  4. Building a curriculum that supports learning and wellbeing
  5. Successful Signposting – Responding effectively to students in distress
  6. Student Mental Wellbeing – Realities, Responsibilities and Reasonable Adjustments

Role specific training for support staff

Working with colleagues in Careers, Estates, Halls, Library and Union of Students we co-created bespoke training for each area and delivered this and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) for those in appropriate roles. The aims of the bespoke training were to:

  • Increase understanding of most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions
  • Raise awareness of signs of mental distress
  • Build confidence in providing an initial response
  • Explore how, when and where to refer on appropriately
  • Explore boundaries and confidentiality
  • Develop strategies to look after own wellbeing
  • Support staff to understand and maintain their own wellbeing
  • Identify if someone is experiencing problems
  • Improve appropriate and timely reporting of problems
  • Ensuring staff are equipped with the relevant skills and strategies appropriate to their role

Key learnings and challenges

One of the key learnings was to ensure contributions from a wide range of staff were filmed and being able to demonstrate clearly through the narrative arc of a short film the importance of cross institutional co-operation, ensuring that the approach to the film offered relevance to the wider sector.

A further key learning was to explore the concept of project co-creation and developing partnerships with students with the overall aim of enhancing the student experience and offering opportunities to develop and showcase their skills as part of a national profile project. This project has been valuable in recognising the value in co-creating the experience between students and staff – each bringing different skill sets and interpretations of project content and context.

One of the challenges, due to the short length of the film, was to highlight the process we underwent to develop the training, key lessons learned, the pedagogical approach we took, our learning outcomes and the impact on staff, behaviour and culture. The editing was carefully managed to ensure clarity and relevance to a wider range of viewers.

Engagement, communication and impact

While many universities are keen to ensure that staff are trained in supporting student mental health, little work has been done to establish the nature of effective approaches to developing and embedding this training. This project will help address the need within the wider sector for guidance in this area and contribute to ongoing debates and upcoming developments, like the Universities Mental Health Charter.

Next steps and dissemination

Our next ambition is to embed this programme into established structures, ensuring that all new staff receive bespoke mental health training, relevant to their role. This film will be used internally to help colleagues to understand the benefit of the training. We are happy to share our experiences and lessons learnt with colleagues at other Universities and welcome individual conversations.