As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, we reflect on how our universities have joined the campaign to support their staff and students during these unprecedented times. Universities in Wales have provided opportunities to promote, celebrate and raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing. While students and staff are having to spend time apart, universities have created innovative ways to help and support each other.
Swansea University has been marking Mental Health Awareness Week with a wellbeing month – a fun, engaging and interactive online awareness campaign to remind staff about the importance of maintaining good health and wellbeing during lockdown. The Swansea University Centenary Wellbeing Event ranged from daily live and recorded meditation sessions, frank chats with specialists, and a Time to Change Wales champion sharing a poignant session about how bereavement and domestic abuse changed their life, to rugby players explaining what causes stress and how we can create healthy coping mechanisms at home.
Aberystwyth University published a worry and anxiety guide available in Welsh. The practical online guide to living with worry and anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic was written by staff in the department of Welsh and Celtic studies, and has been released in line with Mental Health Awareness Week.
Wrexham Glyndwr University launched a campaign to share acts of kindness through their social media streams with the aim of reaching 1000 acts of kindness throughout the month of May. The Students’ Union has also published a blog with five acts of kindness you can do right now.
Cardiff Metropolitan University marked the ‘Kindness Matters’ campaign with staff and students sharing stories of battling cancer and the kindness that was shown to them, and how mindfulness can help maintain calmness and creativity. Former Welsh Rugby International and Cardiff Metropolitan ambassador Richard Parks also shared his personal account of lockdown in comparison to his recent Antarctic expedition.
Cardiff University has highlighted the campaign by sharing information on support and events available to its staff and students. With the ‘be kind to yourself’ theme, the university has encouraged people to be kind to themselves and others by giving helpful ideas such as sending a motivational text to a friend who is struggling, or contacting someone you haven’t seen for a while to arrange a phone catch up. The university has also released online wellbeing workshops on managing anxiety, building emotional resilience and an introduction to mindfulness, to name a few.
Anxiety and depression experts Fay Short from Bangor University and Ann John from Swansea University have published an article sharing tips for mental health. MSc Counselling students at Bangor University have also produced a YouTube video with top tips for good mental health.
The University of Wales Trinity Saint David has developed a programme called SoCom, which provides students who struggle with social interactions and personal wellbeing with a regular social group in a supported environment where they learn to develop skills to promote healthy attitudes, behaviours and understanding of self and others.
The University of South Wales has launched a health and wellbeing survey for its staff. It aims to assess the health and wellbeing of USW staff and, in particular, the impact of remote working. The feedback will help USW to focus the wellbeing support and resources it is providing to colleagues in order to meet their needs. Cardiff Metropolitan University has also undertaken a ‘pulse test’ with staff to ask how they are feeling at this unprecedented time as well as providing links to resources which could help them in their particular circumstances.
The Open University Wales has made a range of short videos available to support staff wellbeing including, among others, de-stressing, mindfulness, and staying well during challenging times. Staff also have access to an employee assistance programme which provides 24/7 advice on a wide range of topics and access to counselling sessions.
Universities have been encouraging their staff in a number of ways, for example Swansea University staff have been encouraged to stay active during lockdown with yoga, pilates, getting daily steps in, a keepie–uppie challenge and a Work out of the Day. Cardiff University has encouraged its staff to get involved in the campaign by reflecting on an act of kindness and sharing their stories and pictures across the university community.
Our universities have been utilising their social media channels to connect to their students and beyond by sharing resources and personal stories about mental health. For example, students from the University of South Wales have been vlogging short video diaries sharing their tips and perspectives for coping with their health and wellbeing during lockdown. The Open University in Wales and Aberystwyth University have both been signposting their students to information on how to access the Big White Wall service, which offers free, confidential online support around the clock.
With the abundance of resources, personal stories and acts of kindness, we were unable to capture every activity happening this week. The highlights above show how universities in Wales have created opportunities for people to develop their mental health and show kindness to create lasting change.