Taking care of our students' wellbeing and mental health has always been important, but especially recently during such turbulant and uncertain times.
Fernanda Megda, ELICOS Teacher / Wellbeing Coordinator & Counsellor at IH Sydney Training Services, recognised this and wondered how she could go further in supporting students. She started a mental health awareness programme across IH Sydney's schools called I hear u, creating a safe space for students to open up and share their feelings and experiences.
What inspired you to set up I hear u?
As an English teacher, who has been an immigrant myself and been in contact with the international student community for over 10 years, and a counsellor, I have always seen the need for emotional and psychological help for international students who are one of the most vulnerable demographics in Australia.
In fact, I have always supported my students beyond their academic needs which often translated in better performance.
With Covid-19 and all its repercussions, the mental health of our students has deteriorated significantly. Senior management started to receive requests for help from students across the campuses.
I hear u was born due to the need to support the wellbeing of our students.
What is the main purpose of the programme? Why is it important to have such a thing?
The main aim of I hear u is to build mental health awareness across the schools and support students who are struggling emotionally.
It is our duty of care to look after our students. Several studies have shown that international students are at a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health due to numerous factors such as language barrier, financial and academic pressure, homesickness, cultural differences, to name a few. Further, international students have been found to be less likely to seek help for mental ill-health than domestic students.
What kinds of activities and elements have been set up to support the programme?
The main focus of I hear u is to build awareness and create a safe space to talk about mental health and encourage students and staff to look for help if they feel they need it.
Workshops, webinars, group discussions, in-class activities such as meditation and mindfulness have been provided regularly.
Social media has been a great channel for conversation with our students. We have a Facebook group called I hear u where weekly content is posted. The aim of the group is to form a strong support community where mental health and wellbeing is spoken about freely and help given to those in need.
How has the programme benefitted students?
Mental health is still (sadly) a stigma and people are often quite resistant to talking and engaging in such activities.
However, since the beginning of the programme (September 2020) over 50 students reached out and I was able to help them with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, demotivation, etc.
I also believe that building awareness is a process and a team effort. It is something which requires the whole organisation to get involved in and support each other. It is a daily conversation!
Can you explain a bit more about the role of teachers in I hear u?
The main role of the teachers is to promote the service to students and also be attuned to their student's needs.
Teachers are highly encouraged to have private conversation with students, share their views and offer support where needed.
We believe that students feel more comfortable talking to their teachers whom they see as inspiring role models.
Of course, that sometimes teachers do not feel equipped or even comfortable enough to have those conversations and it is absolutely okay. I hear u is here to help.
I hear u also provides training on mental health to teachers and staff so they feel more prepared in case a situation arises in or outside the classroom.
Have you had a good response from students about I hear u?
Absolutely! Here are some of the responses I have had over the months!
"Good sessions, interesting information, it helped to release a lot of emotions and feelings."
"Fernanda is amazing professional and helped me. She is lovely and up to hear and talk to me with care and attention. Thank you Fernanda"
"I'm pretty positive and I'm so grateful for all your help. You helped me a lot and I feel so much better and capable now."