Welcome to October’s issue: Mental health in new learning and teaching environments

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Photo credit: Max Van Den Oetelaar, Unsplash CC0

Welcome to October’s Issue: Mental Health in New Learning and Teaching Environments

Last month, our student-produced issue was a point of embarkation for understanding the experience of digital learning during lockdown. As Catherine Bovill’s concluding post illuminated, the month offered unique examples of creativity, productivity, and community building while navigating pandemic-related stressors. At the same time, these contributions also foregrounded the intensity of feelings of isolation, loss, and anxiety that many students and staff felt during quarantine. This month’s issue, aims to engage further with many of the live and ongoing questions around which the previous month revolved, in particular, how to manage mental health needs in a new learning environment?

Concern about the impact of university life on the mental health of the student is not new, with historical antecedents in post-war Britain (1). In Ferdynand Zweig’s 1963 study The Student in the Age of Anxiety, the sociologist spoke to the scale of the challenge and lamented that the “happy and easy tone, the gaiety, the carefree existence of the bohemian are largely replaced by the conscientiousness of the plodding student who wearily drags his feet and sweats out his examination papers to the satisfaction of his superiors. A zest for life, the exuberance of youth, lightness, humour and wit are largely lacking”(2).

In the half-century since Zweig’s writing, the sector’s response has been marked by the introduction of a range of internal mental health support services accompanied by procedural and policy protections for students and staff with the Equality Act of 2010. However, Zweig’s analysis still resonates with the views of many inside and outside of higher education. William Davies, lecturer at Goldsmiths and author of The Happiness Industry wrote last year that “a growing proportion just seem terrified of failure, and experience the whole process of learning and assessment as an unforgiving ordeal that offers no room for creativity or mistakes”.

The increase in anxiety, depression, and low-quality sleep brought on by the pandemic has been accompanied by an increase in workloads and ‘learnloads’ as a result of adopting and adapting to digital ways of learning, which can be unfamiliar to many students (and staff). These factors have only accentuated the complex and multidimensional relationship between teaching, learning and mental health support.

This month’s theme illustrates the experience of Schools and staff responding to the unique yet shared mental challenges to students and staff posed by new and existing educational environments.

This month we will hear from:

  • Harriet Harris from the Chaplaincy
  • Fingal Dorman from the University’s Counselling Services
  • Omar Kaissi, Teaching Fellow from the Moray House School of Education and Sport
  • Rayya Ghul from the Institute of Academic Development
  • And more!

Previous Teaching Matters posts that you might find interesting:


(1) Crook, Sarah. “Historicising the “Crisis” in Undergraduate Mental Health: British Universities and Student Mental Illness, 1944–1968”, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 75, No. 2, pp. 193–220

(2)Ferdynand Zweig, The Student in the Age of Anxiety (London: Heinemann, 1963), xiv

photograph of the authorJoseph Arton

Joseph Arton is an Academic Developer at the institute for Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh and is the co-editor of Teaching Matters and leads the development of The Hybrid Teaching Exchange.

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