How to look after your health and wellbeing with ICMP’s Simon Phillips
Our Disability and Wellbeing team are one of the most important services within ICMP, offering students support across a range of issues.
We caught up with Disability Advisor Simon Phillips to learn more about his role, the work he does to help students and some practical tips on how to prioritise your health and wellbeing.
Could you talk about your role and the kind of support you offer?
My role is to be a point of contact for disabled students (and liaison with staff) in order to reduce the academic barriers which can result from studying with a disability.
This can be tricky as many students qualify for this kind of support but don’t necessarily see themselves as ‘disabled’. It means they may never approach us or ask about support. When we talk about ‘disability’, this really means any long-term, diagnosed condition which might have an impact on students’ ability to get on with their studies.
The kinds of disabilities we often see are:
- Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) like dyslexia and dyspraxia
- Autism Spectrum Conditions (eg. Asperger Syndrome)
- long-term mental health conditions
- vision and hearing impairments (sensory impairments)
- long-term medical conditions
- physical disabilities.
The kind of support I offer is really based around these main points:
- making sure students provide the correct evidence of their disability
- making sure ICMP staff have information related to supporting individual disabled students
- helping students to get external support in place (eg. DSA funding for study skills or mentoring support)
- working with the wider ICMP team to try and reduce any institutional accessibility issues.
A useful way of thinking about disability is this: people with certain diagnoses or conditions are sometimes ‘disabled’ by the environment or society they live in, rather than by the actual diagnosis or condition."
This approach is often called ‘The Social Model of Disability’. For example, wheelchair users are often disabled by the lack of accessible routes around buildings, and if buildings were designed to be more accessible then much of the impact of this ‘disability’ would essentially be reduced. In a similar way, dyslexic students can be ‘disabled’ by the nature of the education system, which is heavily reliant on printed text to support teaching and learning … if education systems worked less with printed text/assessment by essay and exam writing, then many dyslexic students would find their ‘disability’ greatly reduced.
The academic-related impact of disabilities can show up in various ways, for example:
- keeping up with note-taking in classes while still taking in what the tutor is saying
- maintaining focus if you have anxiety or AD(H)D
- understanding what you are being asked to do for your coursework
- managing the side-effects of long-term medication
- completing written exams in the time limit
- physical access issues, eg. getting around the building, sitting still for prolonged periods of time in classes
- getting to and from ICMP using public transport, especially if you have a sensory or physical disability.
What is your essential advice to our students when it comes to mental health?
My general advice would be to always try and stay on top of the workload, and to always maintain clear communication with your tutors and other ICMP staff (including the Disability and Wellbeing Team).
One of the easiest pitfalls for students is to fall behind with the work. This often leads to increased feelings of anxiety, which can make it harder to sleep and to concentrate and so harder still to keep up with the work.
This can then go round and round in circles, where falling behind with the work leads to missing classes, which means falling even further behind, then missing more classes etc. The simplest way to avoid this is to try and always keep on top of the work and to always communicate with tutors and support staff when you are having issues.
Another very simple tip is to do basic positive things to manage your general health and wellbeing:
- healthy diet
- healthy sleep pattern
- sensible balance of work/social life
- sensible approach to socialising/drinking etc.
Wellbeing is very much on the agenda at the moment - why do you think this is?
People are generally much more open to talking about mental health issues than they used to be, and much more understanding of the fact that these issues can affect anyone. This has meant that over the last few years, education providers have seen a substantial increase in the numbers of students coming forward to disclose mental health difficulties; this has led to ongoing investment in the services we provide to support students experiencing these issues.
It is not really known whether more people are experiencing these kinds of issues nowadays, or if it is simply that more people are reporting these issues. There are certainly increased pressures on young people nowadays, for various reasons:
- The growth of social media is known to have led to increased social anxiety among young people;
- Lack or any real, meaningful political representation among the ruling parties leads to disillusionment with our society and prospects;
- Growing up in a health-and-safety dominated society where people are not exposed to danger or taught how to deal with difficult situations, and so do not develop resilience so easily;
- Perceived lack of job prospects in the world;
- The ecological catastrophe which is becoming clearer and clearer, leading to real concerns about the future.
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