By Keshni Kanthan and Tom Hatch:
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is the state of wellbeing in which an individual can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and contribute to their community (WHO, 2014). Whether or not we have ever experienced mental illness, it is important to always look after our mental health and wellbeing. As members of the university community, we are constantly met with demands and commitments that may cause us to neglect our mental health and wellbeing. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we practise self-care to maintain a balanced wellbeing.
Mental Health and Wellbeing Month, held in October every year, encourages us to learn and understand the importance of looking after our mental health and wellbeing. The major aim this year is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues by increasing awareness and promoting help-seeking behaviours, hence the theme of the year – ‘Learn & Grow’. WayAhead (Mental Health Association NSW) believes that learning about mental health can allow people to be more aware of their mental state, as well as the wellbeing of others. In short, through learning about mental health and wellbeing, we grow.
Mehna Alacozy, Mental Health Promotion Officer, WayAhead (NSW Mental Health Association), said “this year’s Learn and Grow theme encourages individuals to empower themselves in learning more about how to maintain mental health. This is especially important in the University setting, given the added stress of juggling study with other commitments such as work or family. Part of the learning experience at University is learning when to practice self-care, by taking regular study breaks, eating well, and using healthy strategies to minimise stress. We have worked closely with the Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotions Team to provide Western Sydney University students with the opportunity to learn and grow their understanding of mental health and wellbeing. We look forward to future joint opportunities that strive towards a community that embraces and maintains mental, social and emotional wellbeing for all people, and a society free from prejudice and discrimination against people living with mental illness.”
Western Sydney University’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotions Team have promoted Mental Health and Wellbeing Month and supported the understanding of mental health and wellbeing since 2014. The importance of taking a primary prevention approach in the university setting is reinforced through studies highlighting the over-representation of mental ill health within the university student population. In 2010, a study of 6479 students from two universities compared levels of distress among students using health services with health service patients of the general population (Stallman, 2010). The results showed that the majority of the Australian university students (83.9%) reported elevated distress levels; this indicates that university students are a high-risk population for stress-related mental illness (Stallman, 2010).
This year, in celebrating the month, the team partnered with a variety of different services (Library Services, Careers and Food and Beverage Services) to coordinate the delivery of “Western Chill Stations”, an engaging event for both staff and students within the Western Sydney University community.
2016 Mental Health and Wellbeing Student Ambassadors with Counselling Staff member Emily Tobin (L-R) Daniella Masri, Gopi Subramanium, Emily Tobin, Dona Dodampegama, Tom Hatch, Surleen Kaur and Keshni Kanthan.
In approaching the events with a student-centred and student-led framework, the idea (and name) of ‘Chill Stations’ was adopted from a project delivered earlier this in partnership with Nicole Peel’s Therapeutic Recreation Students. In April, third year Therapeutic Recreation students delivered a series of events with a brief to promote wellbeing. Of the 12 events delivered the activities promoting relaxation or ‘chilling’ were considered to be the most successful.
Rowena Saheb, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotions Coordinator of the University said, “Our students are our biggest asset. Having the opportunity to partner with academics and students, such as Nicole and the therapeutic recreation students, not only allows us to provide opportunities for our students to engage in practical work placements and enrich their learning experience, but also builds the capacity of our university to be health promoting within the student-centred framework. We are grateful to have had this opportunity to partner in student-led best practise prior to delivering our university wide events”.
With a desire to counteract the abovementioned statistics, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotions Team, in conjunction with the Mental Health and Wellbeing Student Ambassadors, set up ‘Chill Stations’ across the majority of our campuses (Campbelltown, Bankstown, Parramatta, Kingswood & Hawkesbury) for students and staff members to de-stress. ‘Chill Stations’ were fitted with inflatable lounges, picnic mats and deck chairs. The events were supported by healthy food cooking demonstrations.
Staff and Students were encouraged to simply ‘chill’ for a few moments, enjoy some healthy food, friendly company or even make a new friend, before returning to exam/assessment preparation. Broadly, the goals of the event were to:
- Take a whole-of-university approach to promoting mental health and wellbeing
- Provide an engaging environment for staff and students to ‘chill’ and socialise, while they learn about wellbeing
- Educate staff and students on ways to de-stress and promote mental wellbeing via use of counselling services, healthy food preparation education and mindfulness activities.
In addition, the ‘Chill Stations’ provided staff and students with the opportunity to engage in self-care by enjoying relaxing time with friends, peers and colleagues. Mental Health and Wellbeing Student Ambassadors and counselling staff promoted mindfulness and better mental health outcomes through activities, such as:
- Chocolate Mindfulness – meditation involving chocolates.
- Life Hacks – a physical game in which participants can win a free hacky sack.
- Western Acts of Kindness – an initiative intended to encourage altruism among our students and staff involving the giving of flowers.
Meanwhile, staff members contributed to the mental health education of our students in the following ways:
- Library Services – staff informed students about Study Break, including ways that students and staff can access free movies, TV shows and more through the library.
- Careers – staff carried out career checks and followed up with valuable advice regarding paid jobs on campus, how to gain successful internships and how to be better prepared when applying for graduate positions.
- Food and Beverage Services – staff ran healthy food cooking demonstrations followed by free samples to all those enjoying themselves at the Chill Station.
If you missed out this year, don’t worry, there’s always next time. Meanwhile make sure to keep looking after yourself and everyone around you. If you need any more information, refer to the contacts below.
Keshni Kanthan and Tom Hatch are 2016 Mental Health and Wellbeing Student Ambassadors at Western Sydney U
Student Support Services
Phone: 02 9852 5199
If you have concerns about your mental health or wellbeing or the wellbeing of another student, please contact Student Support Services. To find out more about the Western Sydney University Counselling Service, visit: http://westernsydney.edu.au/counselling
For more information on Study Smart and other initiative involving the Library, contact on:
Phone: (02) 98525353
Links: westernsydney.edu.au/studysmart or westernsydney.edu.au/library
For more information on Careers and the opportunities that they offer, contact:
Career Advice HOTLINE
(02) 4736 0522
(02) 4736 0424
Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotions Team:
If you want to get involved with the Mental Health and Wellbeing Ambassador Program, contact the following:
Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotions Coordinator
Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotions Support Officer
Stallman, H. M. (2010), Psychological distress in university students: A comparison with general population data. Australian Psychologist, 45: 249–257. doi:10.1080/00050067.2010.482109
WHO | Mental health: a state of well-being. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en/
Learn and Grow Fact Sheet. WayAhead Mental Health Association NSW. (2016). Retrieved from http://mentalhealthmonth.wayahead.org.au/download/english/?wpdmdl=2183