Dr Jennifer Oates, KCL
During the past 18 months I have been working with colleagues and students from the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care at King's College London to design and evaluate a programme of educational activity to enhance nursing student wellbeing. We have worked with the King’s Wellbeing Service and the Recovery College at the Maudsley Hospital to develop a bespoke ‘wellbeing’ module and workshops for preregistration nurses based on the New Economics Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing, translated for King’s as: Keep moving; Invest in relationships; Never stop learning; Give to others; Savour the moment
Our approach has been to involve students as partners at all stages of the project design and evaluation. Interviews with students informed the design and content of the workshops which were delivered by final year students to first and second year nursing students. Student researchers assisted with the project development and evaluation, through conducting peer-to-peer interviews and analysing our research data.
We brought in colleagues from the Recovery College because of their expertise in collaborative education and peer training. Recovery Colleges are run primarily by and for mental health service users. They take an educational rather than a clinical approach to improving mental health. People with 'lived experience' of mental health conditions work with mental health practitioners (doctors, nurses and allied health professionals) to co-facilitate workshops for mental health service users and staff. The involvement of mental health service users in mental health professional education has been longstanding, however it has tended to focus on them describing ‘the service user point of view’ on particular topics. There is little previous evidence of mental health service user involvement being sought because of their expertise in participatory and co-produced educational approaches.
It seems like peer support is vital to student mental health. Nursing and midwifery students have told us that they feel ‘separate’ or ‘different’ to other students, because so much of their degree course takes place off-campus, in hospital and community settings. They say that their mental health could be improved if it was easier for them to access the student union clubs and societies where so many people make social connections and develop friendships.
Whilst feedback from our workshop attendees was positive, the most dramatic shifts in perspective were in the student peer facilitators themselves. They described increases in confidence and motivation to look after their own mental health as a result of taking part. These findings should be tested further. When we design ‘interventions’ to improve student mental health they should focus on opportunities to collaborate with and connect with their peers. I’m hoping that research collaborations via the network will enable stakeholders in student mental health - academics, university mental health services, statutory mental healthcare providers and of course students - to develop proactive peer -led approaches to mental health and wellbeing.
Maybe the key to improving student mental health is simply for each student to have the opportunity to support other students to look after theirs?
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