|Contact||Mary Mooney, Senior Psychology Practitioner, LIFT psychology|
|Address||Old Town Surgery (2nd Floor), Curie Avenue, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN1 4GB|
This project led by LIFT psychology in Swindon and Wiltshire delivered workshops to students at Swindon College to raise awareness of the psychological services available for young people in Swindon between 16 and 25 years old.
The workshops provided an introduction to self help tools and skills to enable the students to cope with the pressure and challenges of further education.
Swindon College is one of the largest further education colleges in South Western England. With up to 6500 young people attending for FE or HE courses, full and part time. Research indicates that the impact of such a project can be wide spread; improving general wellbeing can improve engagement at college or work, raise achievement, development of employability skills, and increasing students hope for the future, reducing harmful behaviours and increase self care, providing young people with skills and resources that they will not only find useful in the short term but will find helpful throughout their whole lives.
Teenage life can be very exciting and also challenging and isolating. It is also a time when we are under a lot of pressure and faced with some of the most important decisions we will ever have to make. College can be a source of continuity and we hope these workshops will not only provide an introduction to self help tools but also lifelong skills.
Students are more likely to stay at college if they feel they have support and feel recognised and validated. That is why we will be running focus groups during term times in order to find out the best way of engaging young people in the subjects that are most relevant to them.
We had to design the workshops to be attractive to young people to do this we shortened them from 2 hours to one hour, we felt it was important to run these in surroundings that were familiar to the students rather than at a surgery or the LIFT Psychology headquarters.
Providing training to the staff also meant that the students got some continuity and support beyond the workshops.
The change introduced and how this was done
The goal of the project was to improve access and raise awareness of psychological services for young people in Swindon between 16 and 25 years old. In collaboration with the Swindon College Student Enrichment Team and management team, we met these objectives via a series of 7 workshops especially written for young people covering subjects including; Self Esteem, Sex, Substances and Self harm, Low Mood, Anxiety, Loss and Bereavement and Managing Change.
These were short, one hour workshops held weekly, during term time in a designated room. It was decided that 9.00 on a Thursday morning was when most students were in the college but was non academic time.
At the end of every workshop wellbeing data was collected and feedback taken from those who attended. There is currently no other organisation providing a series of wellbeing workshops tailored specifically to young people in the area.
This project was adaptable because it involves minimal cost by utilising existing resources that are adjusted and tailored to appeal to a younger age range.
The project has made a difference to the team at the college, because they are more skilled and able to help any student in their care who might need support. They are better able to identify and manage symptoms of distress in students since the training and leaflet we wrote; Managing Panic and Anxiety for Professionals Working with Young People and therefore, improving the schools capabilities in the subject of student wellbeing.
Changing attitudes – Without doubt the overwhelming challenge in this project was tackling people’s perception and understanding of who requires support and help. The college initially saw us as a service catering for their more difficult students. At the time they did not understand that we believe that every young person will benefit from this kind of support and help.
Infrastructure challenge – From the beginning the college requested that we offer some psycho education and skills coaching and training to existing staff. This was one of our initial challenges because we had to quickly develop a training program that was attended by 120 college staff over 3 sessions. These sessions involved informing staff to help them understand what we were aiming to deliver and to coach them in techniques that they would find useful in dealing with student’s stress, anxiety, self-harm and low mood etc.
Undertaking this exercise quickly became central to our launch of the project as a root and branch approach where everyone involved with the young people are thinking in a similar way. The impact of so many people supporting the LIFT way of thinking will over time generate enormous value to young people in this environment.
One of the objectives of the teacher training is to encourage them to increase their awareness of mental health issues and giving them new tools to understand and support the wellbeing of their students.
We believe that this training is a major contribution to the teacher skills sets. Helping teachers understand what LIFT psychology is aiming to deliver made it easier for them to promote and signpost their students to us so it has proven an excellent way of starting the project.
This approach hopes to build resilience in young people by teaching coping strategies and techniques that they can take into their adult life. An earlier positive experience also encourages individuals to access the service as soon as they need support, instead of their first contact being at crisis point. Providing a least intervention is a cost effective way for the NHS to support common difficulties such as depression and anxiety. Currently there are long waiting lists for free 1:1 support with other providers for young people in the Swindon area. This along with the apparent barriers that were preventing this age group accessing the service leaves many adolescents suffering in silence and some taking their difficulties with them into adult life. With an increasing number of clients across the lifespan accessing the service, family difficulties can be targeted through catering for individual needs.
Key learning points
Young people can be difficult to access because of their hectic lifestyles, they tend to live day to day and committing to workshops weeks in advance is difficult. Promoting the service is paramount, to build awareness of what we provide and to ‘get people talking’ about it is helpful in generating interest. We have also learned that there is a huge appetite among professionals working with young people for training in mental health, including managing anxiety, self-harm and panic attacks in their student population.