The Value of the Safe Space

No Sixth Form College can help but be very aware of the increase in reports of stress and anxiety amongst students. It has also become clear to mental health professionals that this can no longer be attributed to over diagnosis or over-protecting the ‘snowflake’ generation. Young people are struggling with anxiety disorders and depression in greater numbers than ever before and sixth form colleges are in the front line of managing the effects of this.

The causes are still hotly debated, from social media, over-exposure to screen lighting, break-ups of communities and family groups, to loss of faith in government and religious institutions - the list goes on, including everything from the environment to neurology. The answer is we don’t know, and we can’t wait until we do know to do something about it.

What can we as tutorial colleges realistically provide?

A school counsellor sounds like a good idea and quite a few have taken this route, most commonly buying in time from a self-employed counsellor who will visit the college at scheduled times, in the same way as any other peripatetic tutor. But no one counsellor can possibly have the experience and training to cover the huge range of needs that can be presented. Finding the right mental health support for a young person is complex and vital to their recovery and should always be handled by a skilled team, not an individual. Another issue that can arise with school counsellors is the grey area around confidentiality and safeguarding. In an article in the most recent issue of ‘Therapy Today’, the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) journal, there was a disturbing lack of consensus amongst school counsellors in what and when to report to the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL).

Mental Health First Aider by 2021

From 2021 all schools will be required to have a qualified Mental Health First Aider on their staff, and a known and named ‘safe person’ who can provide a ‘safe place’ can make an enormous amount of difference. Often anxious students simply need a little reassurance from someone who is not part of their academic world, a quiet place away from others where they can sit and have a cup of tea. Some want to talk, and this is where it is important that the ‘safe’ person is trained. Rapid assessments have to be made as to whether or not a young person is at risk and there has to be knowledge of and confidence in the professionals who need to be alerted. Usually of course this is not the case. All that is needed is the sense of security and reassurance to be found in a familiar, non-judgmental figure, and the provision of a quiet place to be silent in, to talk or simply to take a little time to calm down and gather together their own resources and resilience to tackle their world again.

The provision may seem like a small thing but even just the knowledge that there is such a place and person can have a hugely beneficial effect on an uncertain and anxious student and on the mental health culture of the college, in general.

 

This article was written by Emma Clyne MBACP, Counsellor, Collingham Sixth Form College

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