Central Queensland University’s (CQUniversity) Student Residences team is leading the charge for mental health across their Mackay and North Rockhampton Residential Colleges on campus. Their whole team has been trained in Mental Health First Aid® to ensure the students will always have support nearby when in their residences.
The CQUniversity Student Residences team of 32 supports almost 320 residential students across Capricornia College in North Rockhampton and Canefield College in Mackay. The team, comprising student leaders, full-time residential staff and after-hours coordinators, provides 24-7 on-site assistance to students.
The dedicated team takes seriously its commitment to providing a quality living and learning environment in a happy, healthy home away from home. For the past 10 years, CQUniversity Student Residences has offered Mental Health First Aid (MHFA™) training to ensure the staff and student leaders who interact with students each day have the skills and confidence to support students experiencing mental health problems.
Giving students a support network away from home
Research shows that more than 200,000 university students aged 18–25 years will experience mental health problems in any given year. With 75 per cent of mental health problems first emerging before the age of 24, there is a strong need to address mental health in universities.
The CQUniversity Student Residences team took their first key step toward improving the mental health of its students more than 10 years ago.
Kaye O’Loghlen, Residential Life Coordinator for Student Residences across the Mackay and North Rockhampton campuses, says the team recognised a need for improved support when they noticed the tides turning on mental health awareness and an increase in students seeking support.
For the past 10 years, the team has invited their long-time collaborators at the Alcohol and Drug Education Specialists (ADES) and the CQUniversity Counselling & Well-being team to deliver Mental Health First Aid training, to empower their student leaders to provide mental health support to their residential student cohort.
“With staff at Student Residences working closely with students on an everyday basis, we find it has a huge benefit to not only support students, but to also benefit their own mental health.”
With challenges come opportunity
Students living at the catered Capricornia College in North Rockhampton come together daily for mealtimes, their dining hall abuzz with activity and opportunities for people to check-in with one another. Canefield College in Mackay, on the other hand, is self-catered. A challenge for these residences is that there are fewer opportunities for students to mingle – which can heighten isolation and make it harder to recognise changes in mental health.
When Mark Williams stepped into the role of Director of Student Residences at CQUniversity six years ago, he addressed the issue by extending the training to the broader Student Residences staffing team.
Where their program had previously focused on training student leaders, Mark opened the MHFA training to all staff – from groundskeepers and cleaners to the catering team – to ensure that, no matter where students are on residences, someone would always be nearby to provide support.
The training is now provided to all CQUniversity Student Residences staff across the two campuses, along with appointed Residential Leaders in their second to fifth years. These are the people that have direct contact with the residents, usually on a daily basis, and are in a position to notice changes in behaviour.
“Everyone knows someone experiencing some sort of mental health problem, whether it’s their best mate or their family member. Offering as much of this training as we can is a win-win situation to have that support across the residences and beyond,” Kaye shares.
The full-time staff, student leaders and counsellors work closely to not only support the students but also ensure that the student leaders trained in MHFA have the support they need.
Mental health first aid in action
Kaye says the staff MHFA training has resulted in a supported residence.
“The training has enabled a greater understanding of mental health issues in our community, which does not just fall onto one or two staff to respond to. We now have a great group of Mental Health First Aiders™ who can assist.”
Adding to this, Fenella Anderson, Residential Life Officer at CQUniversity, says that the MHFA training is changing the narrative around mental health and helping to put everyone at ease.
Staff across all functional areas in the Student Residences team are now equipped with the knowledge to recognise and support students experiencing mental health problems, use supportive and inclusive terminology, and make suggestions for professional support.
Stacey Morton, Head Chef in the Student Residences Directorate, credits the MHFA training for giving her the confidence and practical skills to support students or colleagues going through difficult situations.
“I have been able to offer support through listening to and assisting students in taking the next steps for support – whether that’s directly related to mental health or issues in their life.”
When Stacey first recognised a student in distress, she was quick to call on the skills learnt in the MHFA training. She approached the student and guided them to a safe space where she enacted the MHFA Action Plan.
Stacey was grateful to be able to navigate this discussion confidently, with the student accepting her recommendation to seek support from professional channels.
Staff like Stacey continue to check in on students after conversations like these, letting them know that support is available and helping them feel understood and supported.
Another team member notes that the benefits of the training have extended beyond supporting students in residences – it has also been helpful in supporting her family when they experience stress, anxiety or depression.
The CQUniversity Student Residences team will continue to prioritise mental health, equipping all incoming staff and student leaders with the appropriate skills to recognise, understand and respond to mental health problems. This extends to ensuring trained staff undertake the refresher course every three years to keep their skills up to date.
Setting a standard for the wider university
The team’s MHFA training is shining a light on mental health across the campus. With CQUniversity Student Residences paving the way, staff across campus are reaching out to the team with questions to help them in their day-to-day workings with students.
This is not only helping the Student Residences team to raise their profile internally, but also broadening the awareness and understanding of mental health across the wider university.
“It’s going from strength to strength, with CQUniversity now following the lead,” Kaye shares.
Kaye and her team strongly recommend MHFA training for other universities and student residence teams across Australia.
“Having this training, and having people understanding mental health, makes life a lot easier for all – especially young leaders. It just gives them great tools, to make a real difference.”