Monday, 18 February 2019

Getting to know your on-campus Residential Assistants

When the day staff go home, someone needs to be on hand to deal with emergencies. This is where our team of Residents’ Assistants (RAs) step in. On call from 5pm to 8.30am each night and all over the weekend, this wonderful group of students are the first port of call when help is needed.

Being a RA is quite something; dealing with anything from noise complaints, medical situations, people who have had a little bit too much to drink, and at times, mental health call outs. MyHerts spoke to six RA’s, three from College Lane and three from de Havilland. We found out what it is like to be an RA, what they get up to, why they do the job and some funny call outs that they’ve had.

Don’t forget to check out the other services provided by the University and SU to help combat any mental health challenges you may have. Type in mental health or student wellbeing into Ask Herts or StudyNet to find the services available to you and all of your friends.

Kate Rhodes (left), Stavros Antoniou (middle), Adam Walker (Right)

Ayomide Osoteku (left), Gabrielle Chudi (middle), Sheena Tenkorang (right)

Why did you apply?

Most of the RA’s either applied due to a friend’s recommendation or they applied after an experience involving an RA’s that inspired them to put themselves forward for the job. 

One of the RAs explained; “In my first year, one of my friends really struggled with mental health, seeing what the RA’s did for him and how much it changed his uni experience for the better, I really thought I’d like to do that and make a change for some other students who are struggling.” 

What’s a typical day like as an RA? 

There are only 16 RA’s on College Lane and 14 on de Havilland so there is a lot of work to do between them. The shift starts with welfare checks, where the RAs catch up with students about what’s going on in their lives and issues they may be having. After that it can be anything from noise complaints to drunk people to mental health issues. But a lot of the job involves waiting for something to happen, so they get a call on their radios and go and deal with the situation. Unless it’s a Cheeky Wednesday, where it is understandably a very busy night and the RAs generally know what is going to happen.

“It’s such an unpredictable job, but anything can happen, there are 3,111 students on this campus and it just takes one.” 

“A typical day? I cannot describe it because you just don’t know what you’re going to get so you need to be ready for anything.”

Have you had situations that impacted you personally?

Unsurprisingly it appears that this is quite an emotional job with loads of different situations that if they weren’t RA’s, they would never experience or even think about experiencing.

“I have had medical call outs when I’ve felt very emotional afterwards, you have to know how to separate your emotions and to be strong enough to carry on with the situation that’s happening.”

“I’ve had situations where I’ve left and just burst into tears, because it affects you so much.”

What do you think being an RA brings to student life?

With the main aim to support students in need, RA’s can really impact some people’s lives, just by being there, talking to them and helping get them through the night.

“I like to think we really help people. People have come up to me when they see me out and about and say thank you for helping because we help people in their crisis moments and help people get through the night and sometimes that is all people need.”

“Someone came up to me the following day after I’d helped them out and said they were very grateful and I helped her out a lot, she then explained that during her counselling session she mentioned I was such a help for her and it made me smile.”

Do you think you are prepared for situations?

With so many different situations the RA’s experience, we wanted to find out if they are prepared for the situations. We very quickly found out that even after a long and intensive training programme, there are a lot of aspects of the job that cannot be taught. No one situation is the same and no students are the same. 

“It is impossible to train for every situation, RA training is so intense, its 2 weeks of intense 9-5 training. We go through things like safe guarding, mental health training, first aid, role play, conflict resolution, so I think we are prepared theoretically but you can’t actually prepare yourself until you actually get into the situation.” 

“Plus, every RA has their own way of approaching situations, the way I approach things is different to the ways you guys approach things and you can’t teach that, that just comes from within.”

“It’s so unexpected, you just have to figure out how to do it sometimes, although we’ve had the training you just never know, you have to be adaptable.”

Do you manage to get any sleep on a shift?

A question the RAs often get asked, is do they actually get to sleep, since they work night shifts and are certainly busy. Turns out they do.

“Last night I was on duty and although we are on call, we can sleep in between. But we have to have our radio on loud and as soon as the radio goes off, we have to get up and go.”

“It always depends, some shifts I sleep like a baby, sometimes I’ve woken up and checked if the radio was working or if I missed something. Some shifts are silent, and some shifts you don’t sleep, you just have to be wise and make sure you don’t have anything early the next day.”

What experiences have made your time as an RA standout?

More on the positive side of being an RA. We wondered if they had a moment or memory that stood out to them and made their day, made them smile or even makes them love their job.

“One of the most rewarding things is when you’re just sitting in the LRC doing work and someone comes up to you and says thank you, that’s the most rewarding thing, knowing you helped someone.”

“I’ve certainly had students where I feel I’ve made an impact with and it makes me so happy, when you see someone at their lowest point then a few weeks later you see someone out and about with their friends having fun. Although you don’t interact after that, you can sort of watch from a distance and it puts a smile on your face.”

If there are students suffering from mental health issues and looking for support, what would you say to these people?

We wanted to know, if any of you are in this situation, what would they suggest. Obviously, if you’re in the situation, ask for help and speak up, no matter how big or how small, people, especially RA’s, are happy to help.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it sounds cliché but it’s so true, we’re only students, we’re friendly faces, so there’s no judgement.”

“Don’t be afraid to speak up, it can be hard to speak about mental health but if there’s something affecting you, do something, there are so many services around the uni that people neglect, some people are too scared to go to it.”

“If you don’t think you can speak to anyone, just call an RA, because all of us we’re happy to speak to anyone, I’ve spoken to people who think they’re a burden, but we’re on job to be woken up.”

How do people contact you?

You can contact the desk and security will radio them or they can call security directly by calling 01707 284063for College Lane and 01707 808283 for de Havilland, then just ask for an RA. You can have the choice to ask for a female RA or a male RA, if there’s one on shift, they will try their best to help get you your preference.

Is there anything else you think people should know?

As mentioned, there are loads of wellbeing services that you are welcome to, provided by the university and the SU, we and the RA’s certainly recommend you don’t hesitate to try these services out if you want to or feel it’s the right thing. We asked the RA’s if they would recommend anything else to anyone else struggling with mental health.

“We recommend societies, so if you are struggling to make friends or want to take your mind off things, joining a society that you’re interested in can really help what you’re going through.”

“I recommend just knocking on people’s doors because we’re all in the same predicament.”

“Don’t be afraid to call us, no matter how silly it may seem, we’ve seen it all.”

Do you have any funny moments?

In every job there’s a funny side, whether that’s the memories or the friends you make on the job. 

“We get a lot of burnt toast, a lot of hair straighteners. If you see smoke, you’re probably burning your food so please do something and don’t use a hair straightener under the alarm.”

“Avoid getting too drunk in the forum because then you have to get in the buggy.”

“This one girl thought there was a dead rat in her room because it was very smelly, but it was just her fridge with bad food.”

“Whenever there’s a medical emergency we are told to run to the flat and so one time, we got a medical call out, ran to the flat and this person announced that she’d shut her finger in her window and she needed a plaster, at 2 in the morning, we were fuming but now we look back at it and it’s funny.”

Applications to become an RA are open now, but close next month, so if you’ve read this and want to help others, get applying now! 

Friday, 15 February 2019

Top 5 Wellbeing websites & apps

Your health and wellbeing are one of the most important aspects of student life, and life in general. As students, we are constantly trying to improve, challenge and maintain our health and wellbeing and sometimes we need some support. I’ve put together a list of the top 5 wellbeing websites and apps to put you on the fast-track to wellbeing success. All of them are supportive and calming and can help clear your head and get you ready for whatever life throws at you.

1. The Mix

Whether you’re 13, 25, or any age in between, The Mix are there to take on the embarrassing problems, weird questions, and please-don’t-make-me-say-it-out-loud thoughts you have. They can give you the information and support you need to deal with it all.

They connect you to experts and your peers who’ll give you the support and tools you need to take on any challenge you’re facing – for everything from homelessness to finding a job, from money to mental health, from break-ups to drugs.

They’re a free and confidential multi-channel service. That means you can choose how you access their support, without the worry of anyone else finding out. They aim to be the first-place young people turn to, to get support. Life is hard, but support doesn’t have to be.

2. Student Minds

Student Minds works with students, service users, professionals and academics to develop new and innovative ways to improve the mental health of students. They empower students and members of the university community to develop the knowledge, confidence and skills to look after their own mental health, support others, and create change, so that all in higher education can thrive.

Key to the Student Minds approach is ensuring that young people have an agency, whilst empowering the community around them to have the health literacy and tools to respond. They want to ensure students have access to timely, youth-friendly support and resources. They’re focused on prevention, ensuring that more young people learn how to build their own wellbeing toolkit. They also train students and staff in universities across the UK to deliver student-led peer support programmes as well as research-driven campaigns and workshops. By working collaboratively across sectors, they share best practice and ensure that the student voice influences decisions about student mental health. 

3. Students Against Depression

The Students Against Depression story starts with the sad loss of two bright young men to suicide. Their families invested in the Students Against Depression project to reach out to other people suffering the effects of depression and suicidal thinking.

It is now a website by students, for students. It offers advice, information, guidance and resources to those affected by low mood, depression and suicidal thinking. Alongside clinically-validated information and resources it presents the experiences, strategies and advice of students themselves – after all, who better to speak to their peers about how depression can be overcome?

4. Headspace

Headspace was officially launched in 2010 as an events company, but attendees wanted to take what they learned home with them. Andy, Rich, and a small team decided to make Andy’s techniques available online so more people could experience the benefits of meditation anytime, anywhere. And that blossomed into the Headspace you see today: guided meditation, animations, articles and videos,all in the distinct Headspace style.

Headspace has one mission: to improve the health and happiness of the world.

5. HealthyMinds

Life as a student can be stressful - assignments, part-time jobs, sports, clubs, relationships, family responsibilities. In fact, during your years as a student, you will face some of the most intense pressures of any point in your life. Stress can take a toll on your mind, weighing you down and even making you ill, so it’s important to take action to stay healthy. That’s what HealthyMinds is all about.

HealthyMinds is a problem-solving tool to help deal with emotions and cope with the stresses you encounter both on and off campus. The goal: Keeping your mind healthy.

HealthyMinds was developed by The Royal thanks to a donation by D.I.F.D, The Royal is one of Canada’s foremost mental health care and academic health science centres. Its mandate is simple: to help more people living with mental illness into recovery faster.

Max Cresswell is an Internal Communications Assistant at the University of Hertfordshire

Thursday, 14 February 2019

How to deal with your mental health while studying at University

The University of Hertfordshire is committed to taking proactive steps to help people understand mental health issues and promote positive attitudes. We recognise that for many students, starting university can be a worrying time as it's often the first time living away from home and learning to manage academic studies with other changes can lead to some students feeling overwhelmed, anxious and stressed.  

Elin Dahlberg, who graduated from the University in 2018 with a 2:1 in BA Hons in English Literature and History, reveals that starting university coincided with one of the most challenging times of her life in regard to her mental health. “Starting university was truly such a dream of mine, but sadly my mental health was just not stable at the time,” said Elin. 
Originally from Sweden, Elin has struggled with depression from the age of 15. Her mood swings vary from feeling very depressed to extremely happy. However, starting university meant she no longer had her usual support system and no family close by. She was among people she had never met and as such had to build up new relationships and coping mechanisms. 
Elin struggled to meet deadlines for her coursework and was often unable to attend lectures. Fortunately, the University supports staff to help them recognise when students may be experiencing mental health issues. As a result, one of Elin’s lecturers realised that she was under enormous pressure and referred her to the University's Student Wellbeing services.
Lena Kloos, Head of Student Wellbeing at the University, said: “Mental health support is integrated into all our services, providing help and advice to those who need it and we also have our own specialist mental health team. We always act as quickly as we can to help students who need our support whether it be their first experience of mental health difficulties or a longer-term condition.” 
Intent on finishing her degree, Elin took the decision to defer her second year of studies whilst she sought help. "It was really easy to get in touch with the Student Wellbeing team and despite being put onto a waiting list, I managed to get help sooner than I thought I would" said Elin.

The University risk-assesses the urgency of any situation and can support students with mental health issues in a number of ways. This includes helping them manage their difficulties, such as through therapy, developing coping strategies and/or agreeing on adjustments for study; linking them with the appropriate expert support; and liaising with NHS mental health services to get a fast assessment if they are seriously unwell.
Elin was referred to the local NHS Adult Community Mental Health and Wellbeing Services for an initial assessment. As part of her recovery programme, Elin was assigned a counsellor, who she saw several times a week. The counsellor proved to be the most integral part of her recuperation. "I am extremely grateful to my counsellor for the help and support he gave me. He made himself available whenever I needed to talk to someone, even during school holidays when I wasn't on campus." This ensured that Elin received the continuity of care she needed throughout her time at the University.
Elin is keen to encourage more students to talk about their mental health issues. "Mental health is no longer such a taboo subject in the UK. It's something that more and more people are recognising as a genuine issue. As I came to realise, it’s critical to talk to people about the difficulties you may be experiencing. Course leaders and lecturers are very understanding if you come forward in time and they were extremely supportive, extending deadlines and helping me with my coursework. I can't praise them enough.
“The support I received from the University helped me manage my mental health as I completed my final year exams. I’m proud that I achieved a 2:1, whilst also working at a local call centre.” 

Elin Dahlberg is a University of Hertfordshire BA Hons in English Literature and History Graduate

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

How I became a Mental Health Nursing Student

With mental health reporting on the rise and an increased call to encourage more people to talk about their mental health, MyHerts spoke to final year Mental Health Nursing Student, Shane Paizee, about his experiences and how he came to study at the University.

Shane worked for the Corps of Royal Engineers in the British Army for over seven years. During that time, he witnessed a lot of people suffering with mental health issues and found that almost everyone was affected by it, just in different ways. He said;
“The army is an unnatural environment. You have to eat, sleep, work and think differently. That can take its toll on people.”
Shane explained that mental health issues were not highlighted in the army, and fellow engineers never spoke about their thoughts; “I think many people saw it is a weakness and were afraid to speak up about it.”
Shane’s close friends in the army suffered with serious mental health problems, and whilst counselling was available almost no one took advantage of it and kept their emotions and thoughts bottled up; “I saw some really harrowing things happen to my friends and in the field of work, and I started to see that I was becoming someone I didn’t recognise anymore.”
Whilst these things were happening in the army, Shane did not want to speak badly about his job, he just realised that it wasn’t for him anymore; “I needed a change and to get a better routine. My mind wasn’t getting intellectually challenged anymore and I wanted to go and grow my knowledge and do something different.”
This was the turning point for Shane, and he decided to look to education for some answers. He saw the Mental Health Nursing course at the University of Hertfordshire and knew this was the course for him; “It was something I wanted to know more about. Something that could explain the things I had seen happen to people. And something that could maybe help me to go back to my friends and help them.”
So in 2017, Shane started his journey at Herts. He has found the course interesting and said that it has helped him to better understand people and how to communicate with them.
The course gives students the essential skills to make evidence-based interventions and provide care, while respecting and valuing aspiration of individuals with mental health challenges. Students learn through seminars, case studies and lab sessions and spend half of their time on placements in clinical settings. Shane has really enjoyed the opportunity to go on placements and said that they have helped him to put the theory of the classroom into practice – which can be very different things;
 “It is a really interesting course, but it is also really challenging. The course definitely isn’t for everyone. It can sometimes tire you out mentally and physically with something I call personal/passion fatigue. You have to check in with your own mental health as much as you do with others.”
The most important thing Shane has learned and wants to share with others, is to always put yourself in other people’s shoes and to take the time to understand a person’s situation and help them to talk about their mental health. 

Shane’s journey to helping others with their mental health is inspiring, and there are so many ways to help spread the message and break the stigma.
For additional information about the Mental Health Nursing Course visit the University’s website. And if you want to talk to someone about how you are feeling, get in touch with the student wellbeing team or the Students’ Union.

United Minds Project - Herts student starts his own Mental Health organisation

Aaron Ellis-Montoya, is a final year student in Hertfordshire Law School. After years of reaching out about his personal mental health struggles, he has set up his own mental health organisation to educate and support people of all ages with their own personal battles. 
At the age of 16, I started to have various medical complications which to this date are still something that I live with. These conditions prevented me from doing what I wanted. However, at the time I didn’t suffer from any mental health issues, and I didn’t even know that it was something people could suffer from. Until it hit me. It hit me like a brick wall and since that day I have been fighting an uphill battle. But I am pleased to now say that the ground is levelling, and I am winning. 

I suffer from anxiety, depression and panic attacks, and the combination of these is hard to cope with at times and it wasn’t until I accepted that I needed help that I knew I could win the fight. I meditate, do Ti Chi, talk to others and help people with the same issues.

Prior to attending the University to study law, I was an IT Technician. This career however was not for me and I knew change was required if I wanted to be happy. I tried to sign up for the Royal Marines but was medically discharged due to ongoing health complications. When I finally started studying, it was like a new book - not just a new chapter. It was a fresh start. So I looked for help and went to the GP on campus. At first, it was hard. At first, it seemed impossible. But I soon realised it was possible; I could win, I could fight this, I could be ME again.

So I started this organisation, United Minds Project, in the hope that we can help others who are going through the same battles I went through and to help prevent people from taking their own lives. I know far too many people who have died so young and it is heart-breaking. I do not want people to feel alone and I want to bring communities together. If we can spot the signs early, we can stop it from becoming a habit and prevent the struggle.

United Minds Project Ltd has one main mission: "To be a leading organisation in bringing support and unity for people of all ages that battle forms of mental health by creating a safe and friendly non-judgemental environment." 
The project itself is still undergoing a huge amount of work in order to launch the website and showcase the services that we aim to offer by Monday 11 March 2019. We have 2 other directors on board; 
Roxanne Burnham is our Director of Operations. She is responsible for all thing’s social media, brand building and awareness and the general day to day running of the company.

Apostolos Fournaris is our Director of Clinical Operations. He is responsible for ensuring that we are able to provide certain services and that all of our services and material meet the standards required when dealing with those who are suffering from mental health. 
We also have a couple of amazing volunteers who are really taking our mission to heart and are doing an incredible job. They are, without a doubt, fundamental to helping get us off the ground and without them we would not be able to achieve what we have thus far in terms of preparations. 

After 11 March we aim to help as many people as possible. This will include providing materials such as self-help tip bookmarks and workshops with information surrounding the various mental health illnesses. We do understand though that this will take time. To achieve our mission and make sure that everything we want to do is done correctly, we must take things slowly. Watch this space as there are big plans.

Aaron Ellis-Montoya is a final year student at the University of Hertfordshire studying Law.