REFRESHED STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2018-2021 - Victoria University

 
REFRESHED STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2018-2021 - Victoria University
REFRESHED
STUDENT MENTAL
HEALTH STRATEGY
2018-2021

Victoria University, CRICOS No. 00124K (Melbourne), 02475D (Sydney), RTO 3113   UPDATED JANUARY 2021
REFRESHED STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2018-2021 - Victoria University
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
OF COUNTRY
Victoria University acknowledges, honours, recognises and respects the Ancestors,
Elders and families of the Boonwurrung, Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri) and Wadawurrung
(Wathaurung) people of the Kulin Nation on our Melbourne Campuses, and the Gadigal
and Guring-gai people of the Eora Nation on our Sydney Campus. These groups are the
custodians of University land and have been for many centuries.

Warning to Indigenous Australians
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that this document may contain
images or names of deceased persons.
REFRESHED STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2018-2021 - Victoria University
CONTENTS
FORWARD FROM THE ASSOCIATE
PROVOST STUDENTS                                                1
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY                                               2
WHY DO WE NEED A REFRESHED
STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY?                                 3
  • The University of Opportunity and Success                   3
  • Australian University Mental Health Framework               3
  • Prevalence of poor mental health and psychological
    distress in tertiary students                               4
  • How mental health impacts students’ academic performance    4
  • Vulnerable students                                         5
  • The COVID-19 Pandemic                                       6
  • COVID-19 Pandemic and Mental Health of Tertiary Students    7
  • Pivoting to Support Students during COVID-19                8

GOALS AND PLAN FOR THE REFRESHED
STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2021                             9
  • Goal 1: Promotion                                          10
  • Goal 2: Protection                                         14
  • Goal 3: Intervention                                       16

IMPLEMENTATION AND EVALUATION                                  18
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS                                               19
REFERENCES                                                     20
REFRESHED STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2018-2021 - Victoria University
FORWARD FROM THE ASSOCIATE
PROVOST STUDENTS
Victoria University (VU) is an inclusive and open place of learning. In addition to providing high-quality education
opportunities for all students, our mission is to promote the mental health and wellbeing of students across the student
lifecycle, for all cohorts.
Ordinarily, the Victoria University Student Mental Health Strategy (2018-2020) would now be superseded by a new three-
year Student Mental Health Strategy. However, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has shown us that our
environment can change quickly and demonstrates the importance of being agile in responding to unpredictable and
unforeseen challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has created its own set of unique challenges to the mental health of students
(and the wider VU community). In response, the Student Mental Health Strategy (2018 – 2020) pivoted its focus in 2020 to meet
these new challenges. Whilst there continues to be no vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, the Student Mental Health Strategy
in 2021 must remain agile and focus on guiding the VU community on how to support students through an ever-changing
‘COVID-19 normal’ and out of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, refreshing the focus of the Student Mental Health Strategy
onto the emerging demands of 2021 is warranted. Moreover, the Refreshed Student Mental Health Strategy 2018-2021 will be
re- aligned with Victoria University’s Refreshed Strategic Plan 2016-2021 and VU’s ALWAYS WEST values: Welcoming, Ethical,
Shaping the Future and Together. The Refreshed Student Mental Health Strategy 2018-2021 is aligned with the principles of
the Australian University Mental Health Framework launched by Orygen in December 2020.
This refreshed strategy has been proudly developed in consultation with students, staff and the broader University community
to support our students’ mental health and wellbeing in these unprecedented times as we move towards pandemic recovery
in 2021.

Naomi Dempsey
Associate Provost Students

1
REFRESHED STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2018-2021 - Victoria University
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
VU is committed to prioritising the mental health and
wellbeing of our students. The Refreshed Mental Health
Strategy 2018-2021 (the Strategy) sets out the strategic
direction beyond and to the end of 2021 that will allow VU
to proactively invest in student mental health and wellbeing
while supporting our students through and out of the
COVID-19 pandemic.
The Strategy embeds an integrated approach across the VU
community and student lifecycle which combines the goals
of mental health promotion, protection and intervention. It
provides a framework to increase student and staff access
to knowledge of mental health including information and
training on the nature, impact, management and prevention.
It promotes a culture within VU that works towards
promoting positive student mental health, and reducing the
stigma associated with mental ill health and mental health
difficulties. The Strategy provides an integrated approach
to responding to students with identifiable mental ill health
indicators, and delivering mental health interventions that
are accessible, equitable, efficient and effective.

2
REFRESHED STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2018-2021 - Victoria University
WHY DO WE NEED A REFRESHED
STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY?
The University of                                               Australian University
Opportunity and Success                                         Mental Health Framework
The VU Strategic Plan 2016-2021 was refreshed in 2020 and       Orygen’s Australian University Mental Health Framework
extended to 2021 to take account of the significantly changed   (2020) provided guidance for mentally healthy university
operating environment brought on by COVID-19. It positions      settings that embed student mental health and wellbeing
VU as an open and excellent university through the pursuit of   responses across the whole university. Orygen’s Framework
a transformational agenda underpinned by the The VU Way,        was structured around the following six principles:
and four Big Ideas:                                             1. The student experience is enhanced through mental
1. Our Moral Purpose: Transforming Lives and Transforming          health and wellbeing approaches that are informed by
   Communities - We are a university with heart. Focused           students’ needs, perspectives and the reality of their
   on the success of our students and the health and               experiences.
   wellbeing of the industries and communities of the west      2. All members of the university community contribute
   of Melbourne and beyond.                                        to learning environments that enhance student mental
2. Reconceptualising Tertiary Education: A University              health and wellbeing.
   Without Boundaries - We are committed to supporting          3. Mentally healthy university communities encourage
   any student from any background, take an integrated             participation; foster a diverse, inclusive environment;
   view of tertiary education, embrace cultural diversity and      promote connectedness; and support academic and
   forge deep connections with industry and community.             personal achievement.
3. Developing 21st Century Skills and Confronting 21st          4. The response to mental health and wellbeing is
   Century Challenges - We will help students, industries and      strengthened through collaboration and coordinated
   communities to thrive within an increasingly disruptive         actions.
   world. We will champion interdisciplinary approaches to
   the complex challenges of our time.                          5. Students are able to access appropriate, effective, timely
                                                                   services and supports to meet their mental health and
4. Agility, Productivity and Growth: An Agile, Dynamic,            wellbeing needs.
   Innovative and Growing University - We will be agile,
   dynamic and innovative in our approach. We will ensure       6. Continuous improvement and innovation is informed by
   that our campuses, our technologies, our products and           evidence and helps build an understanding of what works
   our operating model are fit for the modern world. VU will       for student mental health and wellbeing.
   be a great place to work.
The Refreshed Student Mental Health Strategy 2018-2021
holds our moral purpose as its core value and embodies the
above four big ideas.

3
REFRESHED STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2018-2021 - Victoria University
Prevalence of poor mental                                       How mental health impacts
health and psychological                                        students’ academic
distress in tertiary students                                   performance
It is estimated that 75% of first episodes of mental illness    Psychological distress and mental ill-health can negatively
emerge before the age of 25 years and peaks during              impact tertiary students’ academic performance and
adolescence and early adulthood. The onset of mental ill        engagement in the following ways:
health coincides when most young people transition to              Lower grade point averages.
tertiary education (Orygen, 2017).
                                                                   Increased attrition. For example, the Social Research
The Productivity Commission reported that “there is some           Centre found that 45% of higher education students in
evidence that tertiary students in Australia experience            2018 who were considering exiting their course early did
poorer mental health than the general population” (2020,           so for stress or health reasons.
p. 262). For example, a survey of over 3,300 students across       Difficulties with studying, concentration, disruption to
40 universities and 30 TAFES undertaken by the National            participation and non-attendance in classes.
Union of Students in 2016 found that 67% of 16-25 year olds
rated their mental health as poor or fair and 65% reported         Impacts of actual or perceived stigma and discrimination
experiencing high psychological distress. Likewise, 59% of         in relation to mental ill-health, and fear of failure.
students aged over 25 years rated their mental health as           Issues associated with mental ill-health such as physical
poor or fair, and 53% reported experiencing psychological          ill-health and financial pressures
distress. Similar experiences have also been reported in           (Productivity Commission, 2020: 267).
international studies. Moreover, the Productivity Commission
reported that “VET students appear to experience higher         Historically, surveys of Australian university students
levels of psychological distress than university students”      have found that only approximately one-third of students
(2020, p. 262).                                                 experiencing psychological distress consulted a health
                                                                professional. However, university students do see counsellors
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and              more frequently than the general Australian population and
subsequent public health measures have placed additional        this is likely due to the availability of free counselling services
and unique pressures on tertiary students most likely leading   on-campuses. Nonetheless, barriers to help-seeking may
to increases in the prevalence of poor mental health and        include students not knowing who to disclose to, uncertainty
psychological distress.                                         as to what will happen to the information they disclose, not
                                                                knowing where to find assistance, uncertainty as to whether
                                                                their problems warrant help-seeking, a perception that help-
                                                                seeking will be too time consuming and/or unhelpful, and
                                                                stigma and embarrassment associated with mental ill-health
                                                                (Productivity Commission, 2020, pp. 267-268).

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REFRESHED STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2018-2021 - Victoria University
Vulnerable students
Mental ill-health can impact any cohort of tertiary students, however, some cohorts may be
more vulnerable than others. These cohorts include:
    Students commencing or transitioning to tertiary studies - Transition to tertiary study
    places additional developmental demands on students such as forming new connections,
    increased autonomy, re-locating from family of origin, balancing work and study and
    being financially responsible. For international students and students from remote and
    regional areas, commencing tertiary studies may also involve moving long distances
    from family and pre-existing support networks. For some students, the commencement
    of tertiary studies can lead to loneliness, increased work-loads, self-doubt, anxiety and
    feelings of pressure (Orygen, 2017, p. 14, Productivity Commission, 2020, pp. 258, 264).
    International students – In addition to the above stressors, international students
    experience the additional cultural and psychosocial stressors of adapting to a new
    country, language, culture, and way of life (Productivity Commission, 2020, pp 264-265).
    Students from low socio-economic backgrounds - There can be great disparity in
    students’ economic status, for example, some students are supported by their family
    whereas others are wholly responsible for their own living costs and finances. Students
    experiencing financial distress are twice as likely to report mental ill-health. Universities
    Australia report that a “significant number of students are now living below the poverty
    line” and most domestic undergraduate students are worried about their financial
    circumstances (Productivity Commission, 2020, p. 266). In addition to financial strain,
    uncertainty associated with casualised employment, unemployment, concerns about
    graduate employability, and pressures of balancing work and study bring additional
    stressors to tertiary students (Productivity Commission, 2020, p. 266).
    Apprentices and Trainees – Apprentices and trainees are subject to contractual obligations
    to attend on-the-job training (usually four days per week) and VET-level training (usually
    one day a week) and face unique pressures that may affect their mental health. In some
    workplaces, apprentices and trainees are ‘soft targets’ given they are recent arrivals to
    the workplace and their junior status and inexperience can create an imbalance of power
    and status making them more vulnerable to bullying or unsafe work practices. Their
    contractual obligations and dependency on their employer make it harder for apprentices
    and trainees to leave unhealthy work environments, assert their needs, and take leave
    from on-the-job training to attend health appointments
    (Productivity Commission, 2020, p. 286).

5
The COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing pandemic caused by
the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-
COV-2) first identified in December 2019. It has led to global
social and economic disruption, a global recession (including
increased unemployment and a recession in Australia),
periods of food and supply shortages that led to panic
buying, and restrictions in international travel including the
cessation of international student arrivals in Australia. The
COVID-19 pandemic led to safety and restriction measures
worldwide that included physical distancing, restrictions on
movement outside the home, curfews, travel restrictions,
the compulsory wearing of face masks, the closure of non-
essential services and businesses, the closure of facilities
including schools, universities and TAFES. Other measures
include quarantining, monitoring and self-isolation for
individuals exposed to (or symptomatic of) COVID-19 virus,
testing, and contact tracing. As of 2nd December 2020, there
have been 20,345 cases of COVID-19 in Victoria and 820
people have died from COVID-19 in Victoria.
With no vaccine for the SARS-COV-2 virus still available,
Australians will have to adjust to a ‘COVID normal life’ in
2020 and 2021. The Victorian government has declared
‘COVID-normal life’ will see a continuation of public health
measures including the use of face masks and limits of public
gatherings subject to health advice, physical distancing when
possible, proper hygiene and testing of individuals with
COVID symptoms (and subsequent isolation of individuals
who test positive to the virus and their close contacts)
(Victoria State Government, 2020).

6
COVID-19 Pandemic
and Mental Health
of Tertiary Students
The impact of COVID-19 on how individuals respond
and cope depends on a variety of factors including their
experience of the public health emergency, their own
health, their personal history and their available supports.
International literature (for example Liang et al, 2020;
Sahu, 2020; Saltzman et al, 2020; Son et al, 2020; Wathelet
et al ,2020) consistently report a wide range of impacts of
the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of tertiary
students, such as:
    Uncertainty, insecurity, anxiety, fear, depressive
    symptoms, worry, fatigue, PTSD symptoms
    increase in suicidal thoughts
    worry about future employment and career
    loss of employment, loss of income
    worry about academic delays
    loss of control over daily life
    isolation due to social distancing and lockdown
    eating and sleep disturbances
    substance misuse
    family violence and relationship difficulties
    health anxiety for self and others
    fatigue, difficulty concentrating
    barriers to learning such as lack of access to technology
    and internet, poor study environments at home including
    distractions and interruptions,
    fatigue from looking at a screen for a long period of time
    difficulty adjusting to the online learning environment
    and increase effort to learn online
    disruption to outdoor activities
    international students worried about the health and
    financial security of family in their country of origin; and
    students working or on placement in health settings
    experiencing anxiety and fear of becoming infected or
    infecting others.
Anecdotally, the VU Counselling Service has noticed an
increase in students presenting with more complex mental
health issues, trauma responses, first episodes of mental ill
health, and relapses in mental health conditions that were
previously well managed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students also advised counsellors that the restrictions
introduced to protect the community from COVID-19 had
curbed activities that protected their mental health (e.g.,
contact with friends, exercise and secure employment).
Student Wellbeing Services observed international students,
students with disabilities, and students with limited access to
technology and the internet to be more vulnerable.

7
Pivoting to Support Students
during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic created rapid change in the                      Accessibility Services delivering targetted support
community and VU pivoted its supports to students                      (e.g., Auslan interpreters, academic support workers)
very quickly – often reacting to fast moving government                to students with disabilities at greater risk of academic
announcements and the unforeseen spread of the COVID-19                disengagement due to the unique challenges of the new
virus. For example, in a period of days the VU Counselling             remote learning environment.
Service moved from a face-to-face to a remote digital                  The establishment of VU’s COVID-19 Student Support
counselling service and introduced new intake and risk                 Fund provided support to VU students experiencing
management processes. Some other new ways VU pivoted to                financial hardship as a result of the impacts of the
promote the mental health and wellbeing of students, and               COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the COVID-19 Student
give students the opportunity to engage and connect with               Support Fund received 9.987 applications from students
each other during the COVID-19 pandemic include:                       and approved 8,414 applications to 3,027 unique students
    Providing free and confidential counselling to students            to the value of $2.706 million. The Student Support
    using telephone and video.                                         Fund distributed $2,197,100 to VU Melbourne students
    Delivery (and recording) of on-line webinars and                   and $509,300 to VU Sydney students. VU International
    workshops for students about the enablers of positive              students received $2,258,700 and VU domestic students
    mental health, e.g. the ‘Self-Care Series’, ‘R U Ok? Series’,      received $447,700.
    ’10 Tips to Stay Mentally Healthy’, ‘Being in Nature               Increase in ‘student wellbeing checks’ undertaken by
    Workshop’, ‘5R’s of Self-management Workshop’, and                 Student Support Services.
    ‘Ask a Psychologist’ live zoom workshop with students at           Student Life, VU Sport, Victoria University Student Union
    UniLodge.                                                          (VUSU) Victoria University Postgraduate Association
    Delivery (and recording) of the VU Elevenses program               (VUPA) and our International Student Association (ISA)
    which provides staff and students with free daily                  delivering events and campus engagement activities
    support sessions about physical activity, healthy eating,          online to promote student connectedness, community,
    managing stress, relationships, reducing alcohol intake            friendships and a sense of belonging.
    and connecting with nature.                                        Launch and operation of the Students as Partners
    The Learning Hub offering students a full suite of remote          network giving students the opportunity to play an active
    services including daily drop-in zoom workshops, and               role in university governance and the co-creation of VU
    new activities in the Study Essential program tailored for         initiatives.
    the remote learning environment (Time Management,
    Wellbeing, Video Skills and Group Work).                        These new 2020 initiatives (along with the new skills
                                                                    and partnerships developed) are the ‘silver linings’ of
    Student Mentors producing and releasing a video,                the pandemic. Now that our community is beginning to
    ‘How to be resilient’ with positive mental health               transition from a public health emergency to a ‘COVID-19
    messages about resilience for their student peers.              normal’ setting, VU and VUP will be able to reflect, refine
    Student Advising Programs delivering over 1,000 remote          and review how it goes about supporting student success
    appointments to commencing and continuing students              and promoting the mental health of students into 2021.
    and a 17% increase in interventions by Course Unit              These silver linings will include the delivery of counselling to
    Advisors.                                                       students using telephone and video technology in addition
                                                                    to traditional face-to-face counselling.

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GOALS AND PLAN FOR THE REFRESHED
STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY 2021
The Refreshed Student Mental Health Strategy (2018-2021)        These four key principles guide the three goals of the
not only incorporates the principles and goals articulated in   Victoria University Refreshed Student Mental Health Strategy
the Student Mental health Strategy (2018-2020) but extends      (2018-2021):
the course of action VU will need to take in 2021 to continue
to be an agile mentally healthy university that promotes,       1. Promotion:
protects and supports the mental health and wellbeing of        Promote greater awareness of mental health and wellbeing
students in a COVID-19 environment. The Victoria University     and thereby reduce the stigma associated with mental ill
Refreshed Student Mental Health Strategy (2018-2021) is         health.
underpinned by the principles of:
                                                                2. Protection:
1. Inclusivity:
                                                                Create and foster a culture of inclusiveness for all students.
Building a culture within VU’s community that works towards     Increasing students’ sense of belonging and connection and
reducing stigma associated with mental ill health and mental    reducing their risk of developing mental ill health.
health difficulties.
                                                                3. Intervention:
2. Responsiveness:
                                                                Support students who are experiencing mental ill health or
Responding to students within a timely manner that              mental health difficulties.
also demonstrates consideration of any mental ill health
indicators.

3. Literacy:                                                    The sections below list what the VU Student Mental
Increasing staff and student access to knowledge of mental      Health Strategy 2018-2020 had achieved and delivered in
health.                                                         progressing the above goals of promotion, protection and
                                                                intervention. It also sets out a pathway on what activities
4. Connectedness:                                               VU needs to undertake in 2021 to further extend these
                                                                goals.
Ensuring students with identifiable mental ill health are
referred to and can access mental health services within VU.

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GOAL 1: PROMOTION
     Goal
     Promote greater awareness of mental health and wellbeing and thereby
     reduce the stigma associated with mental ill health.

2018-2020 achievements & deliverables
1.1                                                               1.7
The VU Student Mental Health Strategy 2018-20 was officially      Student as Partners created a space where students and
launched during Mental Health Week at V4U Day 2019.               staff worked together on teaching, learning, curriculum,
                                                                  administration and governance. This had included
1.2                                                               discussions in relation to the development of the Refreshed
The Student Mental Health Strategy Reference Group and            Student Mental Health Strategy 2018-2021, and a Stepped
the Student Mental Health Strategy Working Group oversaw          Care Model of Mental Health Interventions that were co-
the governance and implementation of the Student Mental           designed with students to support their mental wellbeing.
Health Strategy 2018-2020. The membership of the reference
and working groups consisted of key staff and student             1.8
stakeholders.                                                     VU Counselling listed online resources for students in relation
                                                                  to mental health (e.g., alcohol and other drugs, attention
1.3                                                               deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders,
The Student Mental Health Strategy was promoted using             bi-polar disorder, depression and anxiety, eating disorders,
digital media and social media campaigns.                         families and carers of people experiencing mental health
                                                                  difficulties, gambling, obsessive compulsive disorder,
1.4                                                               personality disorders, psychosis, self-harm, suicidal thoughts
The goals of the VU Mental Health Strategy complemented           and actions, trauma-related mental health issues, victims of
the VU Accessibility Action Plan for Students 2016 - 2020.        crime).
The Accessibility Action Plan Working Group oversaw the
operations of the Accessibility Action Plan for Students 2016-    1.9
2020.                                                             Recent events such as bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic,
                                                                  had adverse impacts on the mental health of the general
1.5                                                               population. Having a trustworthy source of information
Students with mental ill health were the largest cohort of        was critical in reducing anxiety in times of uncertainty. VU
students by disability type that held Access Plans. An internal   ensured that all critical communication to students about
review of Accessibility Services (focused on students with        these events had correct information about safety, mental
an Access Plan studying in Block Model) was conducted             health and internal/external triage options.
and included focus group conversations with students with
Access Plans and conversations with Accessibility Liaison         1.10
Officers. The internal review was completed in April 2020.        An important channel for students to share information
                                                                  was the Hyde Student Magazine. Hyde Student Magazine
1.6                                                               celebrated the launch of The Student Mental Health Strategy
Accessibility Services produced and distributed a video on        in 2019 (Issue 1, 2019), and published annual editions
the VU website that promoted Accessibility Services and the       dedicated to mental health and pride e.g., 'Mindful' (Issue 2,
range of supports Accessibilty Services provided.                 2020), 'Colourful' (Issue 3, 2020).

10
2018-2020 achievements & deliverables continued

1.11                                                               1.16
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) teaches participants how to         Displacement and disconnection from family, religion and
assist people who are developing a mental health problem,          culture can potentially place international students at
experiencing a worsening of an existing mental health              greater risk of mental ill health. VU held annual events and
problem or in a mental health crisis, until appropriate            activities that provided students with opportunities to form
professional help is received or the crisis resolves. Courses      connections with others, observe religious and spiritual
were delivered to staff and students by Accredited Mental          practices and celebrate culture (e.g., Multicultural Week, Iftar
Health First Aid Instructors.                                      and other faith cultural events, 'Multicultural Stories Project',
                                                                   VUSU Cultural Clubs). Moreover, prayer rooms and reflection
1.12                                                               centres, intercultural training for students, and campaigns
The Mental Health Promotion Campaign, 'What do you                 such as 'Racism It Stops With Me', promoted an inclusive and
know?' ran over two weeks in September-October 2019.               welcoming university culture.
Using multi-channel information strategies, the ‘What do you
know?’ campaign:                                                   1.17
     increased awareness of common mental health issues            The pressures of having to adjust to unfamiliar
     relevant to students such as assessment anxiety,              environments, culture, language and academic practices, can
     procrastination, depression and loneliness                    potentially place international students at increased risk of
                                                                   mental ill-health. In order to build students’ confidence and
     developed and distributed resources promoting student         resilience, VU provided information to international students
     wellbeing, and                                                at commencement of their studies about self-care, support
     delivered information about university and community-         services, orientation to Australian culture and academic life.
     based mental health and wellbeing support services.           Between 2018-2020, International Student Advising delivered
                                                                   'Student Orientation Programs' and 'Very Useful Information'
1.13                                                               Sessions for commencing International Students to promote
VU held annual campaigns to raise the awareness of mental          student wellbeing and inclusivity e.g., 'Adjusting to a New
health issues and to reduce the stigma associated with             Culture', information about VU Student Wellbeing Services,
mental ill health e.g. R U OK Day?, Mental Health Week,            health literacy, intercultural communication, Under-18s
DeStress/Stress Less Festival.                                     Information Sessions, Big Beach Day Out (water safety).

1.14                                                               1.18
Student Services, Victoria University Student Union and            The Yarnathon-Little Penguin Jumper Knitting Project (in
Victoria University Postgraduate Association worked                partnership with Allianz) commenced in 2019. Through
collaboratively on SSAF Grant Initiatives that were aligned        weekly/fortnightly knitting circles (led by International
with the Student Mental Health Strategy (e.g., Queernival,         Student Advising and VU Counselling staff), international and
Be a Better Human, welfare seminars, VU Vollies Program,           domestic students built social connections and learnt about
V4U, Student Leadership Council, International Student             VU support services. The project gave students a safe place
Association Events), as well as supported the launch of the        to hold conversations about their mental wellbeing and
VU pride room at Footscray Park campus.                            provided a practical way for students to addresses loneliness,
                                                                   anxiety and depression.
1.15
                                                                   1.19
A common experience of disease outbreaks, like the
COVID-19 pandemic, is depression, anxiety, uncertainty             In strengthening VU's commitment to promoting an inclusive
and financial stress. Individuals with pre-existing mental         learning environment and workplace, VU People & Culture
health disorders are at higher risk of a deterioration in the      and Student Wellbeing Services collaborated to develop a
mental health. During the pandemic, VU delivered activities        VU Gender Affirmation Procedure and Guidelines for Staff
and events to support students and staff. These included           and Students, a Gender Affirmation Guide to guide the VU
Elevenses, the Self-Care Series, Stress Less Fest, Thrive Active   community on how to support a person in their gender
Living Program, VU Push Up Challenge (in partnership with          affirmation journey, and a Template Gender Affirmation Plan
Headspace).                                                        for Staff and Students.

11
2018-2020 achievements & deliverables continued

1.20                                                              1.24
Aboriginal people also have particular mental health needs        Student Services engaged VU's Institute for Health and Sport
resulting from discrimination and disadvantage, the trauma        to undertake three research projects:
associated with colonisation, the removal of children,               the delivery of a yoga intervention in conjunction with
destruction of communities, and the shortage of culturally           an online mindfulness course with the aim of improving
safe health services. Moondani Balluk is a culturally safe and       student mental health and academic engagement
supportive place for Aboriginal students and staff at VU, and
provided a wide range of information, services and support           training VU counsellors on exercise-based interventions
for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students which was         to address common mental health difficulties, and
guided by the University-wide Aboriginal strategy, Bathlmun          development of appropriate and accessible,
Yalingwa. Moondani Balluk collaborated with other internal           comprehensive online intervention materials and
stakeholders/areas to ensure Aboriginal students were                modules for the VU student cohort with the aim of
appropriately supported. The Budima Aboriginal and Torres            developing and evaluating a stepped care model for the
Strait Islander Student Society aimed to bring together              promotion of mental wellbeing and increased access to
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in a culturally       early intervention.
safe and supportive environment while promoting and
celebrating Aboriginal culture at VU.                             1.25
                                                                  Activities and events aimed at building understanding and
1.21                                                              knowledge of mental health among students and staff
VU Sport delivered events and programs that built                 need to be accessible to all students including those with
understanding about the importance of physical health             disabilities (e.g. hearing and visual impairment, mobility
and exercise in promoting positive mental health e.g.,            issues). Accessibility Services delivered training to VUSU
Thrive Active Program, social campus sport, intervarsity          about inclusivity and accessibility in event planning.
representative sport, sports clubs, Elite Student Athlete
(wellbeing program).                                              1.26
                                                                  VU Nursing and Midwifery collaborated with North West
1.22                                                              Melbourne Primary Health Network on a suicide prevention
The trauma associated with sexual assault and family              project. As part of this project over 500 members of the VU
violence place many women at risk of mental ill health. The       community completed the 1-2 hour online module 'Question,
Respect and Responsibility program delivered programs             Persuade, and Refer' designed to teach learners the warning
and initiatives that challenged gender stereotyping and           signs of a suicide crisis and how to respond.
helped change attitudes and behaviours around sexual
assault and sexual harassment. Respect and Responsibility         1.27
developed online resources on 'Bystander Awareness and            Free TAFE Students are a cohort at risk of greater
Action' and 'Consent and Respectful Relationships' through        psychological disadvantage. VU employed Free TAFE Support
a rich co-design process that involved students in a series of    Staff who provided targeted case management support to
conversations about respect, gender equality, ally ship and       students and secondary consultation to VE staff.
speaking up for and watching out for your friends. Face-to-
face training for student leaders was also provided.              1.28
1.23                                                              Accessibility Services provided advice and information
                                                                  to teaching and professional staff about inclusivity,
VUSU held 'Be a Better Human Festival' in 2019 which              accessibility, universal learning design. Accessibility Services
included information stalls, speakers and educational             (in collaboration with Connected Learning) delivered a
materials (booklets, merchandise, T-shirts, pens). ‘Be a Better   webinar about inclusivity, accessibility and universal learning
Human Festival’ facilitated conversations aimed at improving      design using webinars.
a campus culture that valued consent, respect and empathy.

12
2021 Extension                                              1.9
                                                                 Continue to work with student organisations and the
                                                                 Students as Partners Network to ensure all mental health
     1.1
                                                                 promotional activities align to what students want and
     Continue to produce and deliver information sessions        need.
     (live and recorded) and resources for students about:
        adjusting to higher education,                           1.10
        self-care and enablers of good mental health             Continuation of VU's Institute for Health and Sport’s
                                                                 three research projects:
        managing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and low
        mood, and                                                   the delivery of a yoga intervention in conjunction
                                                                    with an online mindfulness course with the aim of
        support services available to students from all             improving student mental health and academic
        cohorts.                                                    engagement
     1.2                                                            training VU counsellors on exercise-based
                                                                    interventions to address common mental health
     Produce and deliver information sessions (live and
                                                                    difficulties, and
     recorded) and resources for staff about:
                                                                    development of appropriate and accessible,
        how to recognize when a student may be
                                                                    comprehensive online intervention materials and
        experiencing mental ill-health
                                                                    modules for the VU student cohort with the aim of
        impacts of mental ill-health on learning and                developing and evaluating a stepped care model for
        reasonable adjustments to support learning                  the promotion of mental wellbeing and increased
        speaking to a student about their wellbeing                 access to early intervention.
        what supports are available to students at VU
        supporting a student to access support, and
        who staff can contact for advice if they hold concerns
        about student wellbeing.

     1.3
     Produce a VU webpage dedicated to student mental
     health that hosts resources and on-line content for
     students and staff.

     1.4
     Deliver Mental Health First Aid and suicide intervention
     training (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training,
     safeTALK, and QPR: Question, Persuade and Refer) to
     students and student-facing staff.

     1.5
     Recruit and train easily identifiable Student Wellbeing
     Ambassadors and Staff Wellbeing Ambassadors to help
     students understand how and where to access wellbeing
     programs and services, to co-create and co-design and
     help deliver health promotion programs and activities.

     1.6
     Develop and disseminate a Financial Inclusion Action
     Plan.

     1.7
     Develop and disseminate the Accessibility Action Plan
     2021 – 2023.

     1.8
     Develop a 2021 Communication Plan to deliver above
     messages to students and staff.

13
GOAL 2: PROTECTION
     Goal
     Create and foster a culture of inclusiveness for all students.
     Increasing students’ sense of belonging and connection and reducing their
     risk of developing mental ill health.

2018-2020 achievements & deliverables
2.1                                                               2.4
In 2018, VU introduced 'The VU Way Engaged Learning in            The 'Preventing Violence Against Women Ten Point Plan'
Block Mode' a new approach to learning and teaching. The          2016-2019' affirmed VU's zero tolerance for violence in any
VU Way stated: "With a culturally diverse population of           form including violence against women and recognition
students and staff from a wide range of backgrounds, VU has       that VU had a "responsibility to create an environment in
a powerful moral purpose to provide vocational and higher         which students can develop their full potential [including]
education that transforms the lives of students and the           educating our students on the necessary behaviours and
communities it serves."                                           skills to reject violence against women both on campus and
                                                                  as they progress into broader community life.”
2.2
VU provided information to students on how to access              2.5
support throughout their journey at VU through multiple           The 'Victoria University Bathelmun Yalingwa Strategy 2017-
channels. Students were sent communications from the              2020 (Shine Bright) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
time of their commencement (e.g., O-week stalls and               Strategy' affirmed VU's commitment to creating a culturally
presentations, International Student Orientation sessions,        inclusive and supportive environment so Aboriginal and
TAFE Orientation talks, information published in the VU           Torres Strait Islander student could realise their full potential
student diary, development of Student Success Plans),             while at the same time building cultural awareness and
and throughout the academic year (e.g., ongoing student           understanding among non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait
communication campaigns, student events held by Student           Islander staff and students. The strategy was framed across
Life and student bodies, VU Wellbeing websites, advice and        three key aspirations:
support from VUHQ and the Contact Centre), and direct                growing the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
communication from teaching and professional staff to                Islander people participating in tertiary education
students.
                                                                     sharing and celebrating Aboriginal culture, and
2.3                                                                  connecting Aboriginal culture to VU spaces and people.
The systemic and individual experience of exclusion and
discrimination on the basis of gender, race, sexuality,           2.6
gender identity, disability and health condition, are major       Wellbeing Services staff attended college staff induction
contributors to mental ill health. VU's 'Student Equity and       sessions and presented information to staff about how to
Social Inclusion Policy' affirmed VU's commitment to the          support students with mental ill health and the range of
promotion of inclusion, equity and social justice for all         wellbeing services available to students.
students. It was updated and revised to provide additional
guidance to the VU community on equity and social justice
for equity groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander students, CALD students, LGBTIQA+ (including
gender affirmation), students with disabilities and medical
conditions, students from low-SES backgrounds, and
women.

14
2021 Extension
     2.1
     Support and train ‘natural helpers’ (the helpers who
     students would come across ordinarily in the course of
     their student life) to promote experiences that facilitate
     engagement and connectedness through in-person
     and digital channels (e.g., Student Life and Leadership,
     Student Mentors, Learning Advisors, Student Advisors,
     Course and Unit Advisors, VUSU, VUPA, International
     Student Association).

     2.2
     Continue to ensure that events and messages celebrate
     and welcome diversity.

     2.3
     Continue to facilitate opportunities for students to
     connect with each other.

     2.4
     Continue to empower students to co-design and
     participate in mental health promotion, protection and
     intervention.

15
GOAL 3: INTERVENTION
     Goal
     Support students who are experiencing mental ill health or
     mental health difficulties.

2018-2020 achievements & deliverables
3.1                                                               3.4
Students were provided with opportunities to pursue their         VU Counselling delivered webinars to students (e.g., ‘The
interests and goals, and experience a sense of belonging,         Self Care Series’ and ‘The RUOK? Series’, ’10 Tips to Stay
healthy relationships, autonomy and competence through            Mentally Healthy’, ‘Being in Nature Workshop’ and ‘5R’s of
participation in Student Leadership Council, VU Vollies,          Self-management Workshop’) and a webinar to students in
V4U, Students as Staff, Students As Partners, VUSU, VUPA,         residential accommodation (‘Ask a Psychologist’).
International Students Association, Clubs and Societies.
                                                                  3.5
3.2                                                               Safer Community and VU Counselling developed clear
VU sought to create an inclusive learning environment for         referral pathways and processes for responding to mental
students by creating safe spaces that value diversity (Pride      health crisis with the aim of reducing distress and ensuring
Rooms, gender neutral toilets, Womens' Rooms, Prayer and          the safety of those involved. These pathways are posted on
Reflection Centres).                                              the VU staff intranet and VU website.

3.3
From late March 2020, VU Counselling Services moved to
remote telephone counselling in response to the COVID-19
pandemic. Video counselling was introduced in October
2020. In order to ensure clinical governance and maximise
safety to students, new procedures and documentation were
developed to support and screen students with mental ill
health and at risk of harm.

16
2021 Extension
     3.1
     Strategically target interventions to meet the specific
     needs of students at increased risk of mental ill-health.

     3.2
     Convene and facilitate a supportive group for
     commencing students to discuss adjusting to tertiary
     education.

     3.3
     Continue to offer a range of interventions to support
     individuals as their needs change e.g., information
     materials, information sessions, workshops, group work,
     individual therapy, referrals to other VU or community
     services.

     3.4
     Continue to offer students a choice on how counselling
     sessions are delivered e.g. telephone, video and face-to-
     face (when safe to do so).

     3.5
     Review and strengthen Counselling Service screening
     tools to better identify young people at higher risk of
     developing mental ill-health.

     3.6
     Provide secondary consults to staff with concerns about
     student mental health.

     3.7
     Develop clear pathways and process to undertake
     wellbeing checks on students identified by staff to be at
     risk.

     3.8
     Review pathways and processes for responding to a
     student mental health crisis with the aim of reducing
     distress and ensuring the safety of those involved.

     3.9
     Develop guidelines and processes that intervene early
     when a student is at risk of discontinuing their studies
     due to mental ill-heath and poor wellbeing.

     3.10
     Develop guidelines and processes that facilitates a
     student’s return to study after an approved absence that
     relates to mental ill-health or mental health difficulties.

     3.11
     Facilitate opportunities for students to safely share their
     own lived experience to make mental health promotion
     more relatable and engaging.

17
IMPLEMENTATION
& EVALUATION
The implementation and evaluation of the Strategy will be
the responsibility of the Student Mental Health Working
Group. This group consists of key stakeholders including staff
and students to discuss the progress achieved in meeting
the goals of the Refreshed Student Mental Health Strategy
2018-2021.
The responsibility for the direction of the Strategy will be that
of the Student Mental Health Reference Group. This group
consists of key leaders at VU and includes both staff and
students. The Reference Group will meet quarterly to ensure
the strategic direction continues to be aligned to the broader
VU Strategy and that the goals are being achieved.
An evaluation and review of the Strategy will occur in
September 2021, to inform the next strategy.

18
Acknowledgements
•    Danielle Borlovan – Manager, Learning Hubs
•    Garth Devilee – Manager Student Contact and Communications
•    Jan Horstman, Senior Coordinator, Student Support and Advocacy
•    Jen Anderson – Senior Coordinator, Accessibility Services
•    John Wheldon – Associate Professor, First Year College
•    Leon Kerr – Director, Student Services
•    Margaret Theologou – Manager Student Wellbeing Services
•    Marcus Brooke – Aboriginal Student Support Officer
•    Naomi Dempsey – Deputy Provost Academic & Students (Acting) and Associate Provost Students
•    Ria Renfrey – Manager Service Centres and Student Advisory and Customer Service
•    Student as Partners Netwrok 2020
•    Shannyn Cain – Manager Student Life and Leadership
•    Tessa Benson – Learning Hub Manager
•    VU Counselling Service
•    Victoria University Student Union
•    Victoria University Postgraduate Association

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