What is a Mental Health Adviser (MHA)?
The provision of mental health and wellbeing services tends to vary for each University but usually includes Student Support/Welfare services which are staffed by mental health professionals. This may include Mental Health Advisers, Disability Advisers, Mental Health Mentors, Wellbeing Advisers and Counsellors.
The role of a MHA is to support students who may be experiencing emotional or psychological distress or personal difficulties. Whilst the job title and remit of their role may differ across each University, typically, a MHA will be able to co-ordinate support for students with mental health conditions and act as a point of contact for the duration of their studies. They will normally have a professional background such as Psychiatric Nursing, Occupational Health or Social Work and/or extensive experience of supporting people with long-term mental health conditions.
How Can they Support Me?
Mental Health Advisers may work alongside the disability services or counselling services, but their role is very different to a counsellor. The focus of the role is to support students in managing the impact of their mental health condition during their time at University, removing barriers to successful study. A MHA will be able to support and encourage you to consider your rights and think about any additional resources which may help you to access education.
This may include, for example, adjustments in the learning and teaching environment, and formal academic assessments so that the specific effects of your difficulties can be taken into account (e.g. extra time if you have concentration or processing difficulties).
For some, this may involve applying for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) to facilitate access to education, notably through the provision of additional resources such as education and mental health-specific support. Each case will be viewed independently and will vary according to the students’ needs.
Many MHA work closely with students with complex needs or those at a critical stage in their study and social circumstances to manage their safety. They have extensive experience of working with students experiencing a mental health crisis, including those who are feeling suicidal or have been sectioned.
They also support students to develop psychological mechanisms that enable them to deal with their difficulties by drawing on a range of evidence based interventions.
MHA will normally have extensive knowledge of statutory services, and local provision, and can provide advice on transitioning to adult services, transferring your care and signposting to therapeutic and medical services. They can help you return to study after crisis intervention, but can not be named on discharge plans unless this has been specifically agreed with them in advance.
Some MHA work closely with NHS Early Intervention services - completing assessments and referring students into these services, participating in multidisciplinary team meetings regularly to ensure a joined up approach and offering consultation across the institution.
How do I find about University Support Services?
To find out about the mental health and wellbeing services provided by your University, UMHAN advise you to look on the specific University website or visit Student Space. You can also find out if your University has a UMHAN-represented Mental Health Adviser by consulting our list of public members.
It is also important to remember that there is often a variety of support available to you as a student. Among others, this could include university support services, student led groups and listening services, or your GP. You may find that some services or options are not appropriate for you and your needs but a different form of support may work well for you. You can find out more about the support available to you by reading our blog about available support, looking on your university website, or speaking to the support service at your university.
You can normally contact a Mental Health Adviser/team in advance of starting your course at University, for advice on any of issues above. Open Days and applicant visit days can be a good time to have an informal chat, but it is worth checking in advance if the team is going to be there on the day you are visiting.
Become a Mental Health Adviser
There is no consistent career pathway to become a Mental Health Adviser and no specific training available. Successful recruits often have substantial experience of working in mental health - in statutory services, CAMHS or similar. Although roles do vary, assessing risk is often a key feature, and so experience of risk management is frequently a requirement. In some smaller institutions, Mental Health Advisers may work alone, and be responsible for developing a service and policies. We suggest looking at our Jobs Board to see what employers consider essential and desirable qualifications and experience.
Become a Member
Mental Health Advisers are encouraged to join the University Mental Health Advisers Network so that they may share best practice with other specialist support staff at various institutions and participate in peer support and development. Becoming part of the UMHAN network allows individual members to have their say in the wider development of services and become involved in creating guidance and policies for institutions and mental health services.