Mental Health Awareness Week: How Norland supports its students and staff
17 May 2023
15-24 May is Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme this year is anxiety, which is one of the most common mental health problems in the UK. This week aims to increase people’s awareness and understanding of anxiety, and to empower people to help others to feel supported.
At Norland, student support is a top priority, and there are systems in place to provide students with 24/7 access to mental health support if needed. The available support aims to enable students to manage anxiety independently through mindfulness practices, a skill that will benefit them in their future careers.
When students accept their offer of study at Norland, they join a welcoming and supportive community of individuals united by a passion to reach their full potential as professional early years practitioners and to do their very best for children. When they graduate as Norlanders they gain access to a lifelong support network through the Norland Agency and the new Professional Association of Norlanders.
Norland’s student support team has implemented resources around the clock to offer help with anything from study tips to personal stresses. Students, graduates and staff have access to Togetherall, a 24/7 mental health support community with peer support and practical wellbeing tools and resources.
Students also have several peer-to-peer support networks put in place by the wellbeing team, including a buddy scheme where second-year students mentor first-year students to help them settle into life in Bath. Student volunteers can join Norland’s Here to Hear scheme as mentors to talk through any worries, queries, or concerns that students may have. Students are provided with appropriate training to support their role as a mentor as part of the Here to Hear programme.
Student peer-to-peer support
Second-year student Sophia volunteers with the Here to Hear team, and is actively involved with many other wellbeing activities. “Having the student support team upstairs during the day is so helpful; we can pop up there whenever we like. I spoke with them a lot during my first year, and they would help me decode my assignments, which were a huge source of anxiety for me.”
“I joined the Here to Hear team as a mentor this year,” says Sophia. “After I had such a good experience with them in my first year at Norland, they were always available to talk me through any questions or worries I had, and we became friends.”
Supporting students with dyslexia
Sophia has dyslexia, as do her siblings, and she shares that “they always say that the support at Norland is better than any they have experienced at other universities. When I started at Norland, I had never written an essay before, so I would get very stressed trying to understand how to convey my points clearly.”
Through communication with student support staff Lexy Jones and Mog Thirlwall, several measures were put in place to ensure Sophia’s learning needs were met, enabling her to perform better, feel supported, and begin to manage her anxiety levels independently. “Mog spent a lot of time with me. She is great because she caters to each student’s learning needs. I don’t know how she remembers over 200 students’ individual learning preferences!”.
Practical measures put in place for Sophia included extra time for assignments and having her notes on purple paper since she finds the coloured background helps her to read more easily than black text on a white page. “The Norland library always has stacks of purple paper for me, and many other dyslexic students always have their colour preferences kept by for them, thanks to Kat who manages the library!”
Norland’s student support team also ensures that students feel supported more holistically, and that all staff departments work together to support their wellbeing. At Norland, there is a unique focus on helping students to minimise stress in all aspects of their lives, not just academically.
Chief Financial Officer, Emma Lloyd, is a qualified personal trainer and offers free group fitness sessions for all abilities, as well as offering 1:1 support sessions for students who are looking for financial advice or support. Emma also championed the Norland hardship fund, enabling every student to apply for a grant to ease the effects of the cost of living crisis.
Norland also offers group activities designed to help students take regular study breaks by attending Knit and Natter sessions, quizzes, film and pizza nights, wellbeing breakfasts, and BBQs. For students who use sports to unwind, Norland students are automatically enrolled in Bath Spa’s Students’ Union (fees are covered by Norland). This allows them to access sporting facilities and be part of sports teams, as well as any other social society they wish to join.
“In my first year at Norland, I joined Bath Spa’s badminton team,” says Sophia. “It was a really good way to meet new people who are outside of the Norland bubble.”
Supporting students' mental health
Learning how to manage anxiety is a skill that is becoming increasingly essential. The Mental Health Foundation reported that 74% of people feel so stressed that they have found themselves unable to cope with their day-to-day lives at times. Amongst young people, the Mental Health Foundation’s 2023 study found that 93% reported consistently feeling overwhelmed due to stress, with students being some of the worst affected. UCAS has seen a 450% increase in student mental health declarations on university application forms.
It is clearly more important than ever for students to learn how to manage their anxiety through mindful practice, a skill which Norland students can go on to teach their future charges. Many are still feeling the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis. Therefore, access to free mental health support is something that Norland prioritises for its students.
The student support team recently undertook a ‘You Said, We Did’ initiative, whereby students offer anonymous suggestions, and the student support team then implements these suggestions which include wellbeing activities. Norland has also introduced special ‘dissertation stressbusting‘ activities for final-year students, which have ranged from puppy therapy sessions to silent discos.
When experiencing anxiety, it is often difficult to know where to start in terms of tackling problems head-on, especially when students are so busy with their academic and personal lives. Norland pays for its students to have free access to Headspace, which they can use at any time on their phones and offers a wealth of mindfulness support and resources.
Below, Lexy and Sophia give their tips on how to manage anxiety levels.
Lexy’s top tips
Lexy Jones is the Student Support and Wellbeing Manager at Norland. Lexy, Mog and Kat, Norland’s student services team, are all certified happiness practitioners. As Student Support and Wellbeing Manager, Lexy Jones works to actively encourage Norland’s staff and students to engage in activities that promote their own happiness. Staff and students at Norland are also invited to attend emotion coaching training, to support not only their own anxieties, but the anxieties of those in their care, by providing them with the tools necessary for self-regulation and resilience.
Amongst many other wellbeing activities, every Tuesday she hosts a Tune in Tuesday session online to help staff and students learn how to practice mindfulness techniques in their day-to-day lives. “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us,” explains Lexy. She says that adopting a daily mindfulness practice can significantly reduce our stress levels, combat insomnia, and lower our blood pressure.
Here are some of her top tips for how to begin a mindful practice:
- Pay attention. It’s hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Try to take the time to experience your environment with all your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste. For example, when you eat a favourite food, take the time to smell, taste, and truly enjoy it.
- Live in the moment. Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting, and discerning attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.
- Accept yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.
- Focus on your breathing. When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath, and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute.
Sophia's top tips
“Through engaging with wellbeing activities at Norland and creating my own mindfulness practice, I have developed a routine that helps me manage my stress levels, especially when I feel overwhelmed by deadlines!”
Here are Sophia’s top tips:
- Move your body. Whether it’s going on walks or picking up a new sport at Bath Spa, any movement will make you feel better. Some of my Norland friends and I regularly attend Zumba classes together. It’s a great way to feel more relaxed and focused as we resume our studies!
- Get creative. I always make sure to have time for my hobbies. I use art as a de-stresser when I’m on placement, and I have found that singing in the Norland Choir really helps to empty my mind. I even illustrated, wrote, and published my own children’s book, which was informed by my classes at Norland. Doing that was a good break from my studies whilst still learning and being productive.
- Break up your day. It is important to make sure you get out and do something fun or for yourself every day. It can be easy, especially on the weekends, to get stuck in your room working. So, make sure you go outside while the sun is still shining. My friends and I have organised activities to give us a break, such as candle making classes, and we are going to a cupcake making class next week! Make a schedule and keep space for non-work activities so you do not burn yourself out.