College conference addresses student mental health and wellbeing

Flourishing Futures, City of Glasgow College’s recent Mental Health Conference looked at how educators can proactively embed mental wellbeing into the curriculum.

Chaired by events host and radio presenter, Gina McKie, the conference brought together expert speakers from across the UK’s tertiary sector, to consider how best to improve students’ mental health and wellbeing in these turbulent times.

The panel included Dr Anna James, criminologist specialising in challenging behaviours, Alex La Vie, digital wellbeing consultant and founder of Live More Off Line, Leigh Spanner, sector improvement lead for Student Minds, and Matt Crilly, President, National Union of Students Scotland.

Paul Little, Principal & Chief Executive, City of Glasgow College, said:

“The global health crisis has severely impacted the mental health and wellbeing, not only of our students but also our staff – and in ways we don’t yet fully understand. Previous generations of students have not faced such prolonged, nor such profound disruption to their learning. I have been greatly impressed by their resilience, however, while we may have come a long way from supporting our students with pastoral care and academic counselling, we have a long way yet to go to meet the multiplicity and diversity of support required for 21st century technological learning.

“Our focus, at City of Glasgow College, continues to be firmly on supporting colleagues and students to establish a greater mental health and wellbeing culture. To that end we have introduced a holistic and scientific based approach to further shape our future health and wellbeing strategy internally, and we have developed a toolkit for staff to better support our students’ mental health and wellbeing by building resilience through learning and teaching, and the curriculum.”

The building student resilience toolkit was highlighted by Kevin Stewart MSP, Scotland's Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care, and one of the conference’s keynote speakers, who also outlined the range of Scottish Government interventions in place to support student mental health and wellbeing.

Gillian Plunkett, Director of Student Experience at City of Glasgow College, said a key message from the conference was that staff and students’ mental health and wellbeing are inextricably linked, adding:

“There is a clear transactional relationship between our core purpose ‘to let learning flourish’ and the wellbeing of staff and students to have the capacity to flourish.

“Our staff need to be mentally healthy to deliver learning, teaching and support to our students and, in turn, our students’ mental health has a direct impact on our staff wellbeing. This requires a whole college approach to mental health and wellbeing and an understanding that it is everyone's responsibility, within the context of their discipline or practice, to support a positive environment for good mental health and wellbeing.

“We have to be aware of the potential for unintended consequences of our everyday actions. Our college should, and must, be a place that naturally supports good mental health and good wellbeing for all.”

In 2020 the percentage of full-time applicants at City of Glasgow College who disclosed mental health as a disability rose to 29%, up from 22% in 2019. 

  • 28% had an SIMD10 postcode compared to 25% across the college. 
  • 61% were female, 37% male and 2% non-binary or other. 
  • 16% had a declared disability which was not mental health, compared to 14% across the college.
  • 33% of students were 16-19 years old, 41% 20-24 years old and 26% were over 25 years. 
  • 28% were Gay or Bisexual and this is higher than the college average. 
  • 12% were young carers while 8% were care experienced young people which is again higher than the college average.