UMHAN Mentor member Helen Thornton talks to us about her career, her role as a mentor and thoughts on student mental health.
Specialist Mental Health Mentor
I currently work supporting students through an agency for various Universities including University of Bath, Bath Spa University, University of Bristol, and Open University
How long have you worked in student mental health?
I have worked with students of all ages with a particular interest in Mental health for more than 20 years. How long have you been in your current role?
6 years, (I have had some students for 8 weeks and some for 4 years)
Can you outline your career and how you got to where you are today?
I started off in Education originally teaching in London Schools, before moving to Australia where I worked for many years with Children, Young People, Adults and Families in Community Services. I was fortunate enough to work in Sydney, throughout NSW, Victoria, Queensland, the ACT and then to be responsible for supporting students and Community Leaders in the Northern Territories. I always had an interest in mental health and the many ways this can impact on individuals, families and indeed communities. I then returned to the UK and decided to work as Mentor supporting University Students.
How does your experience and training help you to do your job well?
I have been fortunate to have had a broad range of experience and training, my particular interest in mental health and wellbeing has led me to understand more about how each person is unique in the way they cope and thrive. I have learnt a lot over the years about trauma. learning styles, different mental health conditions that may be short term or in some cases last a lifetime, as well as having an interest in the brain and epigenetics. I continue to learn and UMHAN helps me stay current and informed.
Can you briefly explain your day-to-day responsibilities?
No two days are the same. Before Coronavirus I used to travel to Bath across 2 Universities for 3 or 4 days a week, then work in Bristol for a day. Since then, a lot of my work has been remote and some students I have never met in person, but we have worked well together. Like many of my colleagues, I try to stay flexible and offer to work in the way that suits students best, for some this has included working as we walk around the campus when we can, (if we can coordinate this and work within guidelines).
What’s helped you to stay in your role?
I have met some amazing people and know that the work that we do as Mentors makes a difference. At this stage of my life, it is rewarding to be able to use my skills in this way, as well as being an advocate for those with mental health issues and disabilities.
What part has UMHAN played in this?
UMHAN is terrific and has really helped me in so many ways. I feel connected, up to date, gain access to great resources and training. I enjoy the meetings and learn so much from other professionals who are generous with their knowledge and support.
What’s your favourite part of your role?
The students. Working with them one to one, building relationships built on trust, watching them grow and seeing them succeed and how their confidence builds as this happens.
What has changed in student mental health since you started your role?
There are more students presenting with mental health conditions and the seriousness of so many of them is very worrying. On the plus side there are more conversations around the importance of mental health and let’s hope this leads to a greater awareness, more funding, support, and a deeper understanding.
What do you think are the biggest remaining challenges?
As above. As well as a more cohesive process for students so that appropriate support can be put in place quickly around funding. Great spaces to be allocated in the Universities and less stigma around mental health. Better access to services and training for the whole University so that there is a more holistic approach.
Have you got any feedback from students that you could share with us?
"I cannot be more complementary of the work my mentor does. She is not only knowledgeable, but an excellent listener and has been vital - crucial, to managing some extremely difficult times during my studies. Helen has been there helping me navigate through it all, she has 100% been an important member of my support bubble that I could not do without."
"To be honest I didn’t really know what a Mentor was or how they could support me but as time went on, I found it really helped and I used to look forward to the sessions. I become more organized, used my time better and gained strategies to stay calm and learn to recognize triggers as well as ways to cope. I will remember to use these skills and want to say thank you so much."
"I can’t believe I made it and couldn’t have done this without your help and mentoring. I always felt I could come and sit quietly or talk through how I was feeling, knowing that you would be there to remind me of the skills I have, to take each day at a time and manage my anxiety. Mentoring has helped me be my best self and succeed in a way that I did not know was possible."