Sara Burns, co-creator of Triangle and the Outcomes Star, explains how she learnt more than she set out to at the Safeguarding Students conference in Manchester
I had two main questions when I registered for the Safeguarding Students conference: what aspects may be relevant in a Star for university students with mental health issues and is My Mind Star – published earlier this year – a good fit? Those questions faded into the back of my mind by lunchtime and further in the afternoon.
Throughout the morning, one speaker after another talked
about the factors behind the sharp increase in mental health problems for young
people and difficulty accessing the right services. 100 student suicides a year
are the tip of the iceberg.
Like most of the people in the room (confirmed by a show of hands) I was
listening as a parent as well as a professional and despite already knowing
much of what was said, it was impossible not to find the presentations poignant
and disturbing. My son and daughter are now young adults and I have witnessed
one negotiate university and the other struggle without access to the right
mental health support. I imagine there were many other parents in the room with
similar experiences; one speaker talked about the loss of his son to suicide.
In the afternoon we heard about the student mental health crisis as a symptom of much wider problems within universities and society; the takeaway phrases for me were ‘persecutory perfectionism’ and ‘university as an anxiety machine’ – how ‘anxiety at university is inherent in a neoliberal Higher Education sector that distorts the student experience into a value-for-money exercise’. We also heard about the emphasis on metrics and performance in a marketized environment. Student speakers throughout the day stressed the pressure to perform, to be perfect, to succeed – that ‘failure is not an option’.
Answering my questions
After 15 years of developing versions of the Outcomes Star I’m still fascinated by the process and my mind is so used to engaging in this way that it even though my original questions were far from front of mind, I still answered them. I concluded that My Mind Star is a good enough fit to be worth piloting in a student welfare and support service, but there are key differences, such as money and the roles of family and peers, which we would include if we produced a tailored variant.
I didn’t get a strong sense of need or fit for the Star within student support, but that may be my lack of knowledge. The Outcomes Stars are most helpful within one to one, holistic support over months or years, which some students may need and receive but support appears to vary a lot. However, if you support university students with mental health, do look at My Mind Star and contact me if you think it – or a variant for students – might support your work; I’d love to find out more.
To talk to Sara Burns and share your thoughts, call 020 7272 8765 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Safeguarding Students Conference 2019, Manchester