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Student services in the round

Student support manager Kate Williams talks to Music Teacher about the importance of student wellbeing, and the College's approach to supporting its artists.

At RWCMD we believe that during a student’s time with us, mental health and wellbeing is one of the most important aspects. It’s been shown that mental health difficulties can be more prevalent among our creative population. Sometimes striving for perfection, as performers often do, means that mental health can take more of a knock when these high expectations aren’t achieved.

Also, crucially, the onset of mental health conditions typically take place between 18 -24 and can be exacerbated due to the transition from home to university and settling into life as an independent adult. Collecting data to prepare for our work with South East Wales universities revealed that, even though RWCMD has the smallest student population compared to the other universities, given our creative intake, proportionally we have the highest level of students needing mental health support. So it’s clear to us that if we want to be truly inclusive we have a responsibility to take student mental health very seriously.

Knowing the effect that leaving home and coming to higher education can have on young people, we’ve introduced a full induction series when they arrive. Over the first few weeks of their new life as a student, as well as introducing them to College life, their new colleagues and teachers in a creative, stimulating way, it also sets out the College’s values. It makes it clear that, although they’re now studying at a conservatoire and they’ll be expected to work very hard and be under a certain amount of pressure to perform to the best of their ability, this should never be at the expense of their mental health and well-being.

Induction forms part of the College’s holistic approach to mental health support, working with admissions and halls of residence data, as well as our academics. This joined-up proactive approach means that often we can work with students before they reach crisis point, but if they do we can be there to support them as soon as they need it.

As mental health is such a priority we’ve built a specialist student services in-house team delivering Disabled Students’ Allowances specialist services. This means that students who need it have access to weekly mental health mentoring support, designed to work alongside their courses, and I work with respective heads of department across music to ensure that their needs are considered and adjustments are implemented in a timely, sensitive way that adheres to the Equality Act.

Alongside me our full-time staff include another two specialist study skills tutors and two specialist mental health mentors. These highly skilled professionals, who hold professional memberships in their respective areas, are passionate about their work, for example, Ben Cowley, one of our Specialist DSA Mentors has just been awarded an MBE for the work he did for the NHS during covid, in addition to volunteering for Shout 24/7 in his spare time. Amy Hubbuck, our other Specialist Mentor, continues to work for charities including the Women’s’ Trust to bring awareness to violence against girls and women. The Student Services’ team, are qualified in every aspect of a student’s mental health or wellbeing, including suicide prevention skills and emergency first aid. They all follow a robust professional development path to ensure that best practice is adhered to at all times.

Alongside this we provide tools and support for our students that we create ourselves or can signpost them to, and develop talks and training programmes for our students. Because we only have around 850 students we can get to know and support them with a bespoke approach, whether that’s just having a cup of tea or finding out directly what the issues and concerns are and responding accordingly.

During the last few years RWCMD has been working with other South East Wales universities to create The University Mental Health Liaison Service in partnership with the NHS and community mental health nurses. This launched in April and has been a step-change for us and we’re already starting to see the difference its making. Having community mental health nurses on site and being at the cutting edge of the best mental health practise means now we can continue to go above and beyond for our students.

This article appeared in Music Teacher as part of our well-being partnership on February 1st 2023


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