NUS Scotland has hosted the Student Mental Health Agreement (SMHA) project since 2015 under the Think Positive campaign. The project brings together the student association and university to work jointly on mental health initiatives on campus. Last year, almost a quarter of a million students in Scotland were positively impacted by their institution developing a Student Mental Health Agreement!
The SMHA collates everything the institution is doing to improve student mental ill health in one clear, easy-to-read-document. The document can focus on a variety of topics, which are determined by representatives from the student association and institution leading on the project. It encourages staff to consider a range of improvements, which could have a positive impact on the staff and student experience and therefore actively work together to assess the areas to prioritise. No two SMHA’s are the same, the project encompasses the diversity of student needs and institution differences.
Developing a SMHA as well as a mental health strategy has now been included in all college and university outcome agreements and is therefore a required development for colleges and universities. Whilst the mental health strategy should encompass the aims and goals for the institution, the SMHA is an action plan of different working streams that will help to achieve the overall strategy. This could include a plan for support services, campaigns, reviewing policy, staff training, peer support groups, for example. Instead of the counselling or support team on campus having to bear the entire load of the work, the project aims to create a whole-institution approach. Everyone at the institution has a role to play and different departments can take forward separate working areas.
Through this project NUS Scotland has worked with a variety of student associations and institutions across Scotland, who each face unique challenges and opportunities. The project enables students, officers and staff to determine where time and resources should be directed. Due to the nature of the SMHA being easily adaptable to suit the needs of its institution, participants are given more ownership over their work and a greater sense of community is established through the need for a holistic approach. Those involved in the project usually return year on year and have found taking part in the project a valuable process.
The project is the only one of its kind which specifically focuses on improving student mental health and wellbeing in the FE and HE environment in Scotland. As the scope of the project is particularly direct, this allows for greater focus and the ability to produce measurable outcomes on the SMHA.
There are no costs involved in taking part in the SMHAs. With 1:1 consultancy support from Think Positive throughout the process, formal and accredited training and development opportunities, institutions will see a number of benefits. Taking part in the agreement process will also support wide cross-institution working and networking opportunities for students associations and university or college staff.
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