In May 2022, Hertzberg and Eriksson trained to become mental health instructors. Later that autumn they held their first training session for 20 student-facing staff members. Hertzberg describes what is meant by ‘student-facing staff’:

“These are employees who meet students, such as study advisers, but also study administrators, course coordinators, receptionists and more.”

Many students have poor mental health

Many of the students these employees meet have poor mental health. This may involve depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other issues. It can be difficult to talk about suicidal thoughts. Many are scared to ask direct questions. These courses give staff the tools to communicate with those who have poor mental health. Eriksson explains:

“During the course we review the various signs of poor mental health and how students can be given further help.”

“We give the participants information, background and facts and discuss an action plan,” adds Hertzberg. This is interspersed with films and discussions.

“It is common for staff to absorb the students’ issues. We help participants set their own boundaries to ensure it doesn’t become too difficult for an individual’s role,” explains Eriksson. “As a study adviser, you neither can nor should solve the students’ problems, rather you refer them on to health care providers. But staff should dare to ask questions and take sufficient steps.”

Eriksson likens the first-aid course to mental-health CPR:

“Just as with CPR, it’s a case of helping there and then, you don’t have to follow in the ambulance or to the hospital.

Expertise to benefit staff and fellow citizens

There is a great need for training, and there has been a queue for the courses held by the Student Health Service. So far, almost 70 members of staff at Uppsala University have taken the course run by the service. The most recent course wrapped up in March 2023, but more training dates will be scheduled for the autumn. The courses are held in the Segerstedt Building and cover two full days. There are also staff on Gotland who train other members of staff. In June 2023, health educators will offer courses at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. An idea has also been floated for mini-courses for students.

Eriksson continues:

“We want to give members of staff expertise; the kind of expertise that can also be used among all those who want to help their fellow people. After all, most of us have some experience of mental ill health.”

Moa RingMoa Ring, Course Administrator at the Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, took the course in March with the hope of benefitting from it both at work with students and colleagues and in her private life.

She feels that the course gave a general grounding while also examining some aspects in detail.

“The participants were able to participate actively during the course, not simply sit and listen,” she says. This is a course that everyone should take.”