Our latest round of member meetings focused on work post lockdown, including preparing students for this.
The main themes to emerge were around staff working conditions and providing student appointments, with both positive and negative aspects of both.
- Many members do not know what method of teaching students are going to receive in the new academic year.
- Many members do not know whether they will be expected to work face-to-face in the next academic year, and expressed concerns about their ability to do so safely.
- For some members, remote meetings with colleagues has meant they've felt less isolated than normal, particularly mentor members and those who work on separate campuses to the rest of their team. This is a real positive.
- The majority do not have the appropriate ergonomic equipment to meet DSE recommendations and are not moving around as much as normal. Some are already seeing negative effects on their physical and mental health.
Providing student appointments
- Working remotely has been beneficial for staff and students in many ways - e.g. attendance has increased and some students have been more open and many mentors and mental health teams will be increasing the amount of remote appointments in future.
- Back to back student appointments are a common feature of working in mental health support however the lack of appropriate breaks, intensity of undertaking high risk work within the home and "Zoom fatigue" mean this is effecting work/life boundaries.
- Practitioners are currently experiencing the fairly unique position of having to manage their own personal challenges and responses to the same issues as the students they are supporting e.g. managing multiple students' anxieties about social distancing while also trying to manage one's own feelings about this. This can also negatively effect work/life boundaries.
- Many members feel that working remotely with students with whom they have already built a relationship with has generally worked well, but expressed concerns about this being as effective with new students.
- There has been a good uptake of some remote platforms, such as Big White Wall, Silvercloud, but an acknowledgement that this does not fulfill the needs of all students.
- We recognise that the fluctuating conditions of the pandemic and easing of lockdown mean it is hard to predict with any certainty what the autumn term will bring. However, if staff are anxious and unsure of what is happening, this is undoubtedly replicating the student experience. This is a time for transparency and clear time frames wherever possible.
- As homeworking now enters its 4th month for many, we'd suggest that this can no longer be counted as temporary, and conditions should be reviewed as per the Health & Safety Executive homeworking toolbox.
- We recommend that UMHAN members join a trade union so that their working rights are appropriately represented.
- Appointment models should be reviewed where necessary to take into consideration the wellbeing of staff.
- Some members have started offering shorter appointments to ensure they have adequate breaks.
- The Department of Education and DSA funding bodies should consider how remote appointments can become more mainstream; although student choice should remain a priority face-to-face appointments may be restricted for many reasons.
- Transition and post Covid-19 support should consider the challenges of providing remote mental health support.
- An example, would be providing additional introductory meetings with support workers and staff for students with mental health conditions
- Remote platforms may help to normalise some responses to the pandemic by providing opportunities for shared experiences to be discussed and could be used alongside current triaging processes to ensure that current services are not overwhelmed.