'We must reduce the stigma around mental health'

The world changes rapidly for 16- to 19-year-olds – colleges are there to support them, writes Richard Caulfield

Richard Caulfield

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It’s nearly World Mental Health Day. This year, the focus is on young people’s mental health in a changing world.

This is the very issue that our colleges are dealing with every day. One of the challenges we face is supporting young people as they make the transition from school to college and then, for many, we are starting to support them as they make the transition from college into the workplace or higher education.  The world changes a lot and rapidly for our 16- to 19-year-olds.

Add to that, if any of these young people are in the mental health system they may also be looking at transitioning between child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) and those available for adults. A point that the Association of Colleges (AoC) regularly raises with decision-makers is that undertaking transition in the health system at the same time as key transition stages in education is far from ideal. Simply moving the health service transition to age 25 could solve a major problem for young people. It’s just easier said than done.

Responding to mental health challenges

Over the past few years, I have been privileged to see how colleges across the country have been responding to the current challenges. I recently visited North Warwickshire and Hinckley College to see how it had used the AoC toolkit to develop a whole-college strategy, and you couldn’t fail to be impressed at how a wide range of staff are coming together to ensure they are meeting students’ needs.

It is also impressive to see 15 colleges achieving the AoC mental health and wellbeing Beacon Award standard this year as they compete to follow in the footsteps of the first winner of the award, Truro and Penwith College. We also now have seven colleges working in partnership with the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust to embed best practice in their settings and create a resource bank that can be shared across the sector, like the resource aimed at construction students they have developed with Bath College.

At the AoC mental health conference earlier this year, I asked those present to just write down for me one thing they have done at their college to address the mental health challenge that they were proud of. Participants didn’t stop at one suggestion. I have on my desk an inspirational list of over 200 actions taken in just 40 colleges, all focused on improving mental health and wellbeing. 

Reducing the stigma

The activity is diverse: from creating quiet rooms to pet therapy; from increasing the amount of counselling sessions available to laying on sport and physical activity programmes. Across the country, colleges have identified the challenge and are responding to it.

Colleges are working hard to ensure that they support the mental wellbeing of their entire student population and supporting those students who need additional support. Increasingly, colleges are showing that they have a role to play in supporting recovery. Next week, during Colleges Week, Ofsted regional director Andrew Cook will visit the St Winefride’s campus at Hugh Baird College in Bootle, where a new initiative brings together a recovery college and mental health support for students, headed up by the local mental health trust, Mersey Care, on to the same site as the college.

World Mental Health Day allows us to take a moment to celebrate what colleges are doing, to raise awareness of the mental health challenges our students are facing, and to reduce the stigma still associated with mental health. However, this is just a snapshot in time – colleges continue to work every day, not just to develop our students with the skills and education they need for their next step but also with the tools to be resilient in a challenging and ever-changing world.

Richard Caulfield is the area director for the North-West at the Association of Colleges. World Mental Health Day takes place tomorrow, 10 October


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Richard Caulfield

Find me on Twitter @caulfieldr

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