What do a ball pit, a message wall and a collection of marbles in a jar have in common? They’re all part of an event designed by RMIT students to improve student mental health.
With one in four Australian students expected to experience a mental health challenge while at university according to youth mental health organisation Orygen, 40 students set about tackling this real-world problem through an innovative pilot program.
The students formed a group called Foremind with the aim of building mental health awareness among students, decreasing social isolation and creating a proactive student mental health culture.
Foremind’s first event – Wind Down Wednesday – was held today to coincide with World Mental Health Day.
A message wall for students to express support, anxieties and gratitude, a ball pit as a way fun to connect with a peer and a lush, green space to escape pre-exam study took over a section of RMIT’s New Academic Street.
It is the latest initiative in a University-wide approach to improving student wellbeing.
As part of the program, the student leaders attended three day-long workshops that were facilitated by RMIT Activator and the RMIT Wellbeing team, in partnership with the RMIT University Student Union (RUSU).
With a program objective of students designing solutions to help students stay well in the first instance, participants completed a full lifecycle of scoping, developing, planning, managing and implementing their innovative ideas.
An additional one-day workshop will be held in November, where students will review their initiative and pitch for future activities to be rolled out at RMIT next year.
Chemical engineering student Kareen Moraes said she had vowed to say yes to every opportunity that came her way in her first year at RMIT.
“My community and my family are not really receptive to the idea of mental health so I thought being a part of this would help me bridge the gap,” she said.
“[Universities] are mostly seen as something that it’s just all education, education, education. It shows that there’s more to uni than going to your lectures and getting a good GPA.”
First-year Masters of Analytics student Naveen Narayan said he wanted to be involved in the pilot as he felt it was a great way to get students out of the mindset that mental health was a taboo surrounded by stigma.
“People talk about going to the gym and going for a jog, but not many talk about mental health issues as a common occurrence,” he said.
“It’s often sidelined because people associate it with someone being crazy.”
Narayan said it was wonderful working with students from other programs.
“Everyone who volunteered to be a leader had a strong connection to the goal … and had a strong drive to address mental wellbeing,” he said.
The pilot program complimented a range of other initiatives, including an RMIT student engagement campaign which launched in October.
The It’s OK to not be OK campaign was delivered in partnership with students and RUSU and aimed to reduce the stigma around mental health conditions.
Students were encouraged to share insights into studying while experiencing mental health challenges and members of the RMIT community shared messages of support.
One RMIT student, Has, shared the stresses felt leading up to exams, including an inability to sleep or eat.
“I felt anxious, nervous and depressed. I felt hopeless like I couldn’t do anything,” Has said.
Another student, Benjamin, told his peers: “You are human. You always have emotions. You are sometimes vulnerable. It is OK, to not always be OK.”
RMIT also supported students to attend key mental health conferences throughout October, including a three-day simulation of the World Health Organisation Assembly where students played the roles of UN member states, pharmaceutical companies, non-government organisations and experts.
Director of Student Wellbeing and Inclusion Fiona Ellis said while many of the wellbeing challenges students faced were not new, RMIT reflected the societies in which it operated.
“Just as mental health and wellbeing has had a greater focus in the broader community, our commitment to support students and staff has never been more important,” she said.
“Our Academic Board endorsed the Framework for Promoting Student Mental Wellbeing in universities in 2017. The framework takes a University-wide approach to enhancing access to services, community awareness, supportive environments, mental health knowledge and skills and engaging curriculum.”
Ellis said RMIT had created a student mental wellbeing advisory group and launched a three-year project that recognised students’ mental health and wellbeing as a key University priority.
“The latest research about student mental wellbeing highlighted the challenges and opportunities, and, by partnering with students and the student union, we’re taking on the challenges laid out in Dr Benjamin Veness’ The Wicked Problem of University Student Mental Health,” she said.
Key initiatives in 2018 include establishing new student and staff support lines, making it easier to access support and creating calm zone spaces on campuses and at exam venues.
Story: Amelia Harris