Open Mind Manchester, a student society set up last year, have recently launched a new Peer Mentor Scheme which aims to provide students with extra peer-to-peer mental health support.
The scheme is open to any who feel they may benefit and is designed to be a supplementary support system alongside the University’s Counselling Service and other external health services.
When asked why the scheme is important for students, Lauren Goodfellow, Communications Officer of the society, told The Mancunion, “whilst the uni excels in providing academic peer support, the emotional support can be lacking. It can be difficult for students to get a Counselling Service appointment, and the NHS waiting lists are drastically long due to underfunding.
“With this scheme, we hope to be able to support students from a relatable place and facilitate them in seeking professional help either through Uni or through other avenues.”
Though this scheme is in no way a replacement for the University of Manchester Counselling Service or other professional services, Open Mind have worked closely with the Service and the mental health charity, Manchester Mind, to develop the scheme.
“[The Counselling Service] were really supportive of the scheme, offered me some training in managing groups,” said Caitlin McWilliams, a coordinator of the Open Mind. “I was aware that because we wanted to support students around their mental health, we would need the Mentors to have training in supportive techniques specific to mental health issues.
“Open Mind was then able to commission some Peer Mentor training from Manchester Mind. I am proud to say that we now have a fabulous group of Open Mind Mentors who are ready to be matched [with] any current student who would benefit from some peer support or guidance.”
A recent report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency has revealed that University dropout rates in the UK have risen for the third year in a row. Figures show that 6.4 per cent of students who started university in 2015, didn’t make it to the end of their second year, an increase from the 5.7 per cent in the year before. Among the worst affected universities, up to one in five students drop out before their second year.
Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank, suspects that these rising rates could be due to the increase of in the intake of students from underrepresented groups that may not be getting the extra support they need. A peer to peer scheme like this one could be the missing link.
Lauren Goodfellow said: “pressure, loneliness and isolation are key factors for students dropping out of University. Hopefully, the programme will support students who have these feelings and the Mentor will be able to alleviate some of these factors.
“In my own experience, just having someone listen to you can be extremely helpful when it comes to mental health. We want to be there to listen to students.”
Jessica Hill, also coordinator of the Peer Mentor scheme, shares some optimistic sentiments over the scheme’s launch: “it’s so exciting to see everything coming together in this scheme! We have a great team of volunteer mentors and couldn’t have asked for a better level of enthusiasm and passion for the scheme. I cannot wait to see it grow and develop and I believe it’s going to be great!”
Open Mind are currently taking applications for individuals who would like a mentor, and those interested can sign up here. If you’d like to become an Open Mind mentor for the next academic year, you can email your interest to [email protected]