Saviour of stressed psyches

1st February 2008 at 00:00

Meet Elaine Boswell - or "the mental lady", as she is affectionately known by students.

When teenagers at Loughborough College in Leicestershire complain they are feeling "stressed out", Elaine is on hand in her role as the college's mental health co-ordinator.

In the job, she has dealt with problems as serious as depression, self- harm and psychotic episodes.

One in 10 children suffers a mental health disorder, according to the British Medical Association.

Much of Ms Boswell's work involves reassuring teenagers who are struggling to cope with the pressure of their studies and changing relationships with parents.

In an age when teenagers with problems frequently turn to the internet for help - and then panic themselves into believing the worst is happening - Ms Boswell, a mental health nurse by profession, offers a personal touch.

The breakdown of family relationships is among the most common causes of students coming to see her, but she finds that almost every imaginable problem crops up.

"Young people go through years where Mum and Dad control everything they do," she said. "Going into FE is about promoting independence. But to pick up the phone and make an appointment with your GP, for example, is very difficult when you're 16."

Over the past year, she has worked with 23 students - some requiring a single meeting, others needing many hours of support.

She also deals with students in groups to reduce the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues.

Ms Boswell has the power to refer students to their GP for treatment if necessary, and her work is supervised by the NHS.

She believes her role reduces the pressure on lecturers, who might otherwise have to take on a more pastoral role and support troubled students themselves.

Ms Boswell's position was created at the request of the college's student support team, which felt it needed more expertise in dealing with mental illness. The College of North East London in Tottenham has just followed suit, appointing someone to a similar post.

Teenagers outside the Loughborough area who are being supported by the child and adolescent mental health services are encouraged by them to apply to Loughborough, even if it means travelling further, because of the extra help available.

The first year in the post certainly hasn't been dull.

"An educational institution reflects society as a whole," Ms Boswell said. "I was expecting a whole spectrum of issues and that's certainly what I've had."

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