Supporting distressed students
As a Principal Lecturer in the School of Nursing, Suzie Bartlett was concerned at the escalating numbers of tertiary learners presenting with an inability to cope with their own mental ill-health. She wanted to understand the lived experiences of academic and non-academic staff who interface with learners consistently, both within Otago Polytechnic and nationally, employed by tertiary providers.
Suzie's Doctorate of Professional Practice research saw educators share with her their personal experiences with distressed learners through semi-structured interviews. All data was analysed by engaging with a thematic approach to reveal three overarching key themes: resilience; environment; and mental ill-health.
The Safe MINDed accreditation framework was developed by Suzie as a result of her doctoral research. This mental health accreditation framework has been accepted for implementation by the Otago Polytechnic.
While Suzie’s motivation for starting this work was her personal experiences of distressed learners, her practitioner thesis demonstrates that colleagues nationally are faced with learners presenting in similar distressing situations. The impact of this work is to inject much needed support for tertiary learners, that can be accessed prior to them becoming distressed to avoid crisis presentations.
This support is twofold; implementation of primary support which learners can access through presenting to Student Support Services, and secondary support through workforce education that will aid staff within tertiary institutions to have the confidence and the tools to assist and triage distressed learners effectively.
The SafeMINDed Accreditation framework opens a space to create national and international positive change in creating a stigma-free culture associated with mental ill-health of learners and to heighten their wellbeing. Due to the escalating numbers and acuity of learner presentations related to poor mental health in the tertiary environment, this work-based project to address this public health issue is not only timely, but critical.