International student mental health - join the discussion 9-11 June

Blog for members
04 June 2020
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Mental health terms: what are we talking about?

In preparation for our series of mental health events running next week, 9-11 June,  we take a look at the terms that are frequently used when we talk about mental health and what we should keep in mind when we are talking to non-UK students who may not be using English as a first language.

We referred to the University Mental Health Charter (page 9) to look at how Student Minds apply the terms.

When we talk about Mental Health, we are talking about the full spectrum of experience – from good to ill.  Good mental health does not simply mean the absence of illness.  This is about ‘regular, enduring positive feelings, thoughts and behaviour’.  In addition students are able to respond to negative situations and make positive contributions to the community

Mental illness may  have a clinically diagnosed condition ‘involving thoughts, feelings, symptoms and/or behaviours, that causes distress and reduces functioning, impacting negatively on an individual’s day to day experience’  while Mental health problems  encompasses a broad range of experience where psychological distress is not ‘normal’  (and can include illness).

Wellbeing, a term frequently used, includes ‘a wider framework’ and includes ‘physical and social wellbeing’.  Good wellbeing is being able to ‘fully exercise cognitive, emotional, physical and social powers leading to flourishing’.  And when we talk about Student wellbeing, it relates to wellbeing but also recognises the impact of academic learning.

Mental Health Support – what do we call it?

There is an argument for creative/ euphemistic names for support services to encourage students who might be deterred by mental health labels. There is another argument for calling the service exactly what it is (like calling the counselling service, the counselling service) so students are able to identify what it is. And when it comes to students who are non-native English speakers or from cultures who are not familiar with individual therapeutic models, perhaps we can never be too explicit about names or in explaining what a service entails.  At the UKCISA Members Seminar in Glasgow in March 2020, we heard from Claire O’Donnell, Student Wellbeing Manager at the University of West of Scotland who asked a group of pre-sessional international students what they understood about ’counselling’ and after a long silence, one student asked if it was related to Council Tax.

An important topic – discuss with members!

Whatever we call and it or describe it, we know that international student mental health is a critical topic, particularly while we navigate these uncertain times.  We look forward to engaging with as many of you as possible on the topic next week at our online events. 

The sessions run over three days and include:
• an outline of the Student Minds Mental Health Charter, recently updated to address Covid-19, 
• a lively panel discussion including the OfS  and the OfS Challenge Project on International Student Mental Health,
• the impact of the curriculum on mental health, 
• a session for FE staff
• an in-depth interview with an international student studying Global Mental Health who has great advice for institutions on how to engage international students from different cultures with mental health support.

Go to our events page for full details and to book to attend.

(Photo by sean Kong on Unsplash)