Issue 8 - Page 19

Can you tell us about your background before starting your contract as project manager for student mental health and Navitas?

I started my social work career about 20 years ago in frontline work - a lot of counselling and child protection, sexual assault and disability services across Australia and the UK. Then I moved into the Department of Defence and spent 11 years in a range of roles from social worker, managing civilian and military teams, to providing support to military people and helping commanders manage the challenges that come with military life.

I looked at cultural change and the importance of education, and I did a review for a university here in Australia on the risk factors for sexual assault and harassment and then held a couple of executive positions in universities, overseeing the safety and wellbeing of student mental health.

You bring such extensive experience to the student mental health project at Navitas. When did that start?

It started in December for me, but it's important to note that Navitas started looking at student mental health back in 2018. There was a group that did the first phase who looked at what was being done within the organization, and they gathered some good examples of best practice globally from Navitas. They came up with some recommendations that included having an integrated approach to prevention, promotion and response and to thinking about student mental health. I’ve gone on and built on that.

What should we take into account since COVID, based on what our staff had seen and heard from students?

It came down to really respecting the needs of individual colleges - to be able to adapt to what their students need and how they work. I was very conscious of the fact that the colleges have their own ways of doing things and to learn from them just as much as they can learn from what we provide in terms of support.

Regarding putting the toolkit together, you held a number of surveys and workshops with teaching, counselling and general staff. What were the main themes that arose?

How to support students and have them achieve the best possible academic success. The primary thing that came across from people who attended those workshops was how energetic they were, and how much they wanted to share, and could see opportunities to do so. I got to hear just how much amazing work is already being done here.

Did you find things that specifically related to international students?

When we think about what we already knew about tertiary students pre-COVID it was that they were experiencing psychological distress at rates higher than the general community. Tertiary students are actually at higher risk of experiencing mental health problems than the general population.

But also, students can be experiencing a whole range of transition issues, like adjusting to new learning, or a new country. If they've moved and there are financial issues - a lot of those really are common things.

When COVID came along, what we saw was an increase in depression and anxiety in tertiary students, and there were even bigger impacts for first year students or people from minority groups.

That's across the sector. Particular to our workshops and surveys here at Navitas, the common issues students face are academic issues - stress from that pressure to perform.

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