Resilience programme at UWE Bristol helps students to develop 'mental wealth'

Issue date: 01 February 2016

Holding hands

An Emotional Resilience (ER) programme launched recently at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) that is helping students to develop 'mental wealth' is going from strength to strength.

Students are being trained in helping others to deal with ER skills through what is known as a peer assisted learning (PAL) scheme organised by the Wellbeing Service in the Student Services Department.

With at least one in four adults between the age of 18 and 25 presenting with acute anxiety or mental health issues at some point during this period in life this is a critical issue for young people.

Developing coping strategies when faced with difficulty are part of growing up but at UWE Bristol students are supporting each other.

Glyn Williams, Senior Wellbeing Advisor, said, “The ER programme has been really well received by students and we have trained our own student ER PAL facilitators who are delivering peer to peer workshops across all our campuses. Mental wealth is about acknowledging that, like all wealth, it fluctuates up and down and at times we need some skills to help us when our Mental Wealth is low. The workshop enables students to pass on these skills on to other students so that they can become the kind of person they want to by building up an armoury of resilience skills and confidence.

“A big issue is that students generally worry about similar things and are often hugely reassured to discover that they are not the only person stressing about assignment deadlines or exam performance, missing family, finding friendship, seeing all their friends seemingly having a better time via ultra-glossy perfect lives on social media or anxiety about finance. Normalising anxiety is critical – students who worry about any range of issues are certainly not alone and critically learning that they are not alone can often be a catalyst to helping them strive with a bit of help.

“Resilience is about learning how to pick yourself up again when something goes wrong.”

Pippa Richards is in her third year at UWE Bristol studying Psychology and she would like to become a counsellor at some point in the future. Pippa is acutely aware of emotional resilience issues and is involved in the PAL student scheme as an emotional resilience leader as well as working on a Student Society Mental Health campaign using mindfulness activities.

Pippa said, “There are many coping strategies that can help people when they are feeling anxious or depressed that help to cultivate a more positive outlook. I am a great advocate of mindfulness using colouring books as a focus. The concentration helps to divert the mind, training it to focus on doing an intensive activity by looking at colours, feeling the grip of the pencil and becoming absorbed. This kind of activity promotes living in the present, helps people gain a sense of peace and contributes towards pushing away negative feelings.

“My work with the PAL scheme led me to become involved in in the emotional resilience programme where I attended training in presentation, confidence and planning to become a PAL leader. The areas I focus on with groups of student include mindfulness activities but also meditation, strategies to calm the inner critic and discussion groups about social networks.

“Topics that come up in the discussions include anxiety about exams and course work, dwelling on negative issues like passing on and global issues that can't be controlled and negative self-perceptions.

“A good example of an activity where we try to squash the inner critic is by detaching people from negative statements. Someone might say 'I'm not smart enough' and so we ask them to detach by changing it to 'You're not smart enough' then to dispute this externalised statement, for example 'I got 70 per cent on that piece of coursework'. It about diverting the perceptions people have about not feeling good enough. Combating the inner critic is a powerful tool when learned to help people enjoy life more and helps self believe.

“I have enjoyed the chance to work on the PAL ER programme and it has taught me so much about different ways of helping people. Although this was not my initial motivation for taking part I think the experience will help me move forward in my career choice to become a counsellor, I consider this experience just as valid a part of my time at university as studying for the degree course.”

Professor Steve West, UWE Bristol Vice-Chancellor, said, “The work on Emotional Resilience at UWE Bristol is absolutely brilliant, particularly in view of the fact that it is run by students and rolled out on a peer to peer basis.

“We want to be recognised as a caring university that does not shy away from tackling serious issues but rather acts proactively to support students when they go through difficult times for whatever reason.

“UWE Bristol also recently saw the self-help app for anxiety (SAM) rise to the top 100 Health and Fitness Apps in 85 countries and received thousands of positive reviews. The Wellbeing Service played a key role with the interdisciplinary team to produce this app - strong evidence that this is an issue UWE Bristol cares deeply about and strives to support though innovation and through offering students opportunities to practice valuable skills.

“Mental Health Services remain under huge pressure and have, for many years under successive Governments, been neglected at a time when demand has been increasing. We live in a complex world where the pressures on individuals throughout their life journey are significant. We are seeing increasing numbers of people impacted by mental health issues at some point on that journey. Within Higher Education the demands placed on young people are significant. We have seen significant increases in numbers accessing our welfare and counselling services and it is increasingly difficult to resource and where required refer in to the NHS. It is fantastic to see the development of technology to support and provide early self-help interventions. This is clearly an important part of the overall eco-system required.”

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