The Australian College of Applied Professions (ACAP) together with James Cook University recently hosted the second in its webinar series ‘The Tapestry of Mental Health in Higher Education’.
Designed as an opportunity to explore mental health research, share strategies for meaningful action and provide an open forum for engagement, the 8 September webinar focused on the lived experience of the student during the COVID period.
ACAP’s Professor Margaret Anne Carter a committee member of the Australasian Mental Health and Higher Education Collaborative, described the online event as ‘thought provoking, challenging and a tremendous success’.
“We delved below the surface and considered the impact of COVID-19 from the lived experiences of students studying in higher education.
“These rich experiences resulted in many clicks of recognition from the audience and resonated with many of our international, First Nations and domestic students”, she said.
“The audience was invited to ponder how fit for purpose their institutional response is to difference and to reflect on strategies for mental wellbeing that consider the breadth of diversity in student communities across Australia”.
Heidi Piper, Director, Griffith International, Griffith University, along with Prianca Govender, Griffith University Biomedical Science Student and Student Ambassador, spoke about the importance of acknowledging the existence of mental health. These presenters described the impact of the pandemic as a ‘tsunami of human grief’ for both students and staff.
They shared the response to their institutional policies and support mechanisms, explaining the value of connection, conversation and mentorships as foundations of support to all students navigating the complexities of studying in Australia during these uncertain times.
Speaking from regional Queensland, Adriel Burley, Project Coordinator, College of Healthcare Sciences, James Cook University, encouraged the audience to reflect on their institution’s student culture and its relevance to the mental health needs of diverse student demographics. She introduced concepts, including the wisdom of lived experience, that work to enable all students, including First Nations and international students, to find acceptance.
Also from James Cook University, Larissa Siliezar, Manager, Student Equity and Wellbeing, explained that the impact of COVID has served to compound existing mental health challenges. She suggested that there are simple ways we can increase our support for students and asserted that student wellbeing is our moral obligation.
From the Ateneo de Zamboanga University in the Philippines, we were joined by Dr Fortunato Cristobel, Dr Monserat Guingona and Miss Maeriel Gadaingan who talked us through how their medical school responded with a refreshed curriculum prioritising student wellbeing during periods of lockdown and isolation. They invited the audience to reflect on the challenges of the level of change required in a time such as a pandemic, including resistance, and to explore how to best support students through transitions into new ways of living, working, studying and participating in the community.
The third webinar will focus on the experience of professional and technical staff and is scheduled for 9 March 2022.
This series of webinars is organised by the Australasian Mental Health and Higher Education Collaborative which was established in 2017 in response to the increasing need for action in the authentic area of mental health and wellness in the higher education sector.
In 2020, the group expanded its reach forming a collaboration between James Cook University and ACAP.