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Everyday Matters: Healthy Habits for University Life

Inspired by her work as an occupational therapist, Eithne Hunt, a lecturer at University College Cork, has developed an eight-week programme for first year students transitioning to University. She joined us last week to share the work she has been doing and how it has impacted her students.

The Rationale

The increasing focus on student mental health across the globe has highlighted some of the key issues students are facing today. There is a growing body on research on the adolescent brain – now seen as the second most influential time in a person’s life (after the first 1000 days of life). With the majority of mental health disorders (74%) showing before the age of 24, it is a crucial time in a person’s development and higher education institutes are tuning into this.

Over the last few years there has been a steep rise in requests for counselling and special measures to be put in place for students. Universities are struggling to keep up with the demand. Eithne believes we should have a public health approach to supporting students mental health – starting with self-care, which forms the first ‘intervention’, with ‘informal community’ following (such as societies, course friends, house mates, families), then engaging primary care services, and then moving on to more specific care in the small number of case where it is required.

Image taken from WHO website, 2003.

A large part of tackling the mental health crisis in universities is educating students in mental health literacy- something that Fabienne Vailes has also discussed this in her work on flourishing vs languishing students. This is an issue we can quite easily rectify within our institutions through early education with students when they come to university – Eithne’s eight-week programme is a great solution to this. The Teen Mental Health website has a wealth of information and tools to help with this.

The Programme

The ‘Everyday Matters: Healthy Habits for University Life’ programme has just completed its first run with great success – 100% of the students that started the programme stayed for the duration. The programme wasn’t credit bearing, but did give students a ‘digital badge’ on completion (a bit like our Bristol+ award scheme).

The programme allowed a space in the week for students ‘press pause’, to come together as a group and reflect on their week. The weeks were themed according to Eithne’s research on how we can best develop our wellbeing and went as follows:

Week 1: How the brain works

Week 2: Sleep (including the science of sleep)

Week 3: Self care

Week 4: Leisure

Week 5: Studying and working

Week 6: Growth mindset

Week 7: Self compassion

Week 8: Tending joy and growing gratitude

Each week the students were given a mindfulness technique to try alongside what they had learnt in the sessions.

There are pockets of practice similar to Eithne’s programme taking in the University but we are not currently offering this to all students. It would be great to see a university-wide programme at Bristol and measure the impact it had on our students across the piste.

On a final note – adolescence is seen as a time of difficulty, stress and hardship, rather than a time of opportunity and growth. Eithne showed us this video during the seminar and it was a great summary of the opportunities this period in a person’s life can bring – I highly recommend watching!

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