Nigerian-born Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi advocates more support for International students in UK

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Nigerian-born Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi, the founder of @ramhhe

Nigerian-born Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi, the founder of @ramhhe and Economic and Social Research Council PhD student, in Mental Health and Wellbeing at University of Nottingham has suggested that more should be done to support overseas students.

Researches have shown that it is not unlikely there will be 262 million higher education students in the world by 2025 (University World News, 2014) and one in four higher education students currently suffers from mental health problems (YouGov, 2016).

In an interview with Midpointmall.com/blog, the founder of @ramhhe stated that there is no better time than now to raise awareness on mental health in higher education. In the absence of a stable mental health, the student experience is hindered and education attainment may be limited.

She argues that the mental health of higher education students is not only about students but also about that of their family members, friends, other social contacts, and their community members. ‘‘When a family member or loved one experiences mental health symptom, it affects the student, studying and academic achievement’’ NwaAmaka Bardi opined

She pointed out that there are peculiar challenges for International students travelling to the UK from all over the world to study, leaving their families, friends and other social contacts behind. For most international students, experiences of mental health problems go beyond the signs and symptoms. It is also about other things such as interrupted family interactions, stalled friendships, limited culturally sensitive environment and broken relationships.

Speaking to international students about their mental health evoked some intense questions in the Nigerian-born mental health nurse. She began to ask when diversity of the university staffing will become an indicator in the local, national and world university ranking table believing that without any doubt that inclusion of equal distribution of the staff team from different ethnic backgrounds will promote equal support services for all students.

“As a mental health nurse, when I listened to International students, they commonly report stressors such as confusion with transitioning to a new environment, feeling homesick, facing communication barriers, and having new financial problems. Some of them express symptoms of mental health problems such as anxiety, panic attacks and depressions, but they are sometimes unable to identify what they feel”. Ms Bardi told Midpointmall.com/blog

Sadly, while Universities offer admissions and accept thousands of pounds worth of tuition fees from International students, their lecturing teams do not usually reflect a multicultural population to support these students. This is because some Universities have failed to employ culturally accessible personal tutors and lecturers who will both understand the experiences of international students and provide culturally relevant support.

She recounts a personal experience about the feeling of speaking to someone who does not understand you, your culture and how this might affect your experiences of being in higher education while trying to achieve academically like your classmates.

Ms. Bardi who also faced similar challenges revealed that “When I was an international student, I suffered situational anxiety and panic attacks because I was unable to pay my fees, so I had to quit my studies due to lack of funds for tuition. I did not know or understand what I was feeling and I was not able to articulate my feelings without feeling like a failure”.

“To make matters worse, my father had just passed away and my widowed mother lived far away in Nigeria where mobile phones were not readily available at the time, and when they were, there was the issue of poor network connection. So staying in touch was difficult. In addition, I felt that my personal tutor only discussed assignment submissions and exams, and did not focus on my need for a culturally relevant mental health support”

With a sense of determination and an uncommon drive to succeed, Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi battled the situation and came out better and more refined.

“This inspired me to start the Raising Awareness of Mental Health in Higher Education (RAMHHE), a campaign that seeks to sensitise students and promote collective anti-stigma discussions around mental health that will benefit all higher education students”.

What can be done? For all higher education students not able to identify the signs and symptoms of mental health hinders help seeking behaviour.

She advocates that the University authorities need to raise awareness of mental health to promote an anti-stigma culture that makes it right to talk about mental health problems. She suggests that it would be helpful if Universities could also employ tutors from different cultures, race and ethnic groups, inculcate mental health into the curriculum, as well as involving students in the decision-making about mental health care provision.

These changes, if made would have a significant impact on the mental health of overseas students – and greatly improve their experience of studying in the UK.

Report highlights extent of student mental health issues Levels of mental illness, mental distress and low wellbeing among students in higher education in the UK are increasing, and are high relative to other sections of the population, according to a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) The ‘Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities’ report says that around three-quarters of adults with a mental illness first experience symptoms before the age of 25.

With widening access to higher education the student population is more closely reflecting the UK’s wider socio-economic and demographic make-up, and a growing proportion of students would appear to be affected by mental illness.  Over the past 10 years there has been a fivefold increase in the proportion of students who disclose a mental health condition to their institution.

The higher education sector and government both have an interest in helping to improve the mental health and wellbeing of students. Universities should make the issue a strategic priority and adopt a ‘whole-university’ approach based on prevention and promotion, early intervention and low-level support, responding to risk and crisis management, and referral into care and treatment, according to the IPPR. It also argues that there is currently too much variation in the extent to which Universities are equipped to meet these challenges. This sector-led approach should be complemented by strengthened NHS provision and new government initiatives to ensure that no student is held back by their mental health.

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