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Self Development Unit: Rising to the Challenges of Students During the Covid-19

01 Jun 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge in education, leading to the suspension of face-to-face teaching (UNESCO, 2020). This change has been particularly challenging for all students especially those studying medical related and health science degrees in universities like IMU, since much of the learning process is based on practical applications, laboratory classes, and direct contact with lecturers and other students. This unexpected change in the teaching format has forced students to adapt to new ways of learning which may potentially affect their academic development and their mental conditions. Furthermore, the prolonged lockdown and the pandemic fatigue added on an extra stressor to the students who must now learn technological skills on top of their subject content. There was no doubt that the pandemic had put extra pressures on them. In addition to this, the students’ conventional way of reaching out for mental health support and care was also changed. The physical support was no longer available during the lockdown. Time was the essence as some of our students, especially those who were far away from their families and those who just arrived may be vulnerable to these sudden uncertainties. There was an increase in anxiety among our students who could not return home before the lockdown and were alone in their hostels. We needed to reach out to them as soon as possible and provide them a way to reach out to us whenever they need. We decided we had to convert to being fully online. Fortunately, we already had the online counselling system ready for our distance learning students in 2019 and when the lockdown happened, we immediately moved our session to online seamlessly.

Easy Access
Similarly, prior to Covid, our department had already begun to set up our own SDU Whatsapp number at 03-27317791, the Self Development Unit (SDU) email at [email protected] for easy access by our students as well as to engage an external 24/7 Mental Health Hotline support system at 012-431 1562. This hotline provides 24 hours 7 days a week phone hotline to cater to all IMU students who need that support. Our outreach posters on the 24/7 Mental Health Hotline were posted all over campus prior to the pandemic. All these services came in extremely handy during the pandemic. To ensure the students were well informed of our services, we took the initiative to email to each student to update them on our SDU Whatsapp number, SDU email link and the 24/7 mental health hotline number throughout the duration of the pandemic. These links were also made available in IMU websites and student portal. Thus, our counselling sessions during the lockdown period were ongoing and counsellors were kept busy reaching out to students who were in need.

During this period, we also took the opportunity to improve and enhance all our operation and administrative processes by first converting all SDU physical forms to online forms or E-forms. Simultaneously, IMU had been working towards integrated technology framework such as Sharepoint, file sharing and content collaboration which helped to align all our work more efficiently. In addition, we revamped and enhanced the SDU Website and Student Portal to ensure smooth transitions in accessing online workshops and talks when the students click on the links from their home. Great adaptations to learning new skills with a growth mindset were something all of us had to do quickly in 2020 as we had to convert all our self-development and awareness workshops and talks to online mode. Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking were also needed to engage our students virtually. The final output of our online talks and workshops for our students were done through a series of norming, storming, and forming Our programmes and activities in 2020 and 2021 are summarised in this chart below, which would be continued in 2022.

Activity Target Group Platform Objective Time/Duration
Workshop / Talks for Students
What’s Your Journey New Students Student Portal Asynchronous Motivation and Self Growth Sharing 40 minutes
My Behavourial Style New Students Student Portal Asynchronous Improve Communications and Teamwork 2.5 hours
Adjustment to Campus Life New Students Student Portal Asynchronous Introduction to SDU and Personal Safety 40 minutes
Study Skills All Students Student Portal Videos Online Study Skills and Stress Management 20-40 minutes
Senior Sharing Session New Cohort MS Teams Synchronous Seniors sharing about study tips and their experience at IMU 1 hour
Digital Art Therapy for Relaxation and Unleashing Your Creativity All students MS Teams / Zoom Online Using Digital Art as a form of coping strategy to relax and to unleash the creativity of the mind. 2 hours
Lunch Chat
Individual CC Students MS Teams online and hybrid (if situation allows) To create a safe space for students to reach out for support, aiming at encouraging them to sign up for services if necessary Weekly programme starting March 2021 (two 30 minutes slots)
Group All Students (BJ) MS Teams online and hybrid (if situation allows) To support and to explore common concerns of students, to encourage them to reach out to SDU for help if needed One hour weekly programme starting March 2021

To reduce the risk factor and enhance protective factors related to mental health, we have put in place a series of outreach programmes such as the NEC briefing, NEC online session, Mental Health Week, Lunch Chat in 2021 and an upcoming event on “Chill over a Cup of Kopi.”

Mental Health Training For All Staff and Students
In 2021, SDU undertook an ambitious step forward to organise the Mental Health Training for ALL IMU staff and students to equip them with the knowledge and skills to assist students who might be struggling with mental health issues and connect them with the necessary help and resources. The outcome of these 2 mental health training was one of SDU’s greatest achievements in 2021.

  • NEC (Noticing, Express Concerns, Connecting) Mental Health briefing
  • NEC online course -mandatory completion by all staff by December 2021.

Moving forward all new staff would undergo the NEC online course which is made available in the staff portal together with the Mental Health Guide and its resources.  Further support into mental health trainings is given via Support Groups where 8 to 12 students are provided with a safe space for them to discuss about different topics or issues. The mode of delivery is online or physical.

Additional support is given to all new faculty members under the mentor-mentee system as all mentors would undergo a compulsory training on ways to provide guidance and support for their mentees.

Extra Advocate to Mental Health Wellbeing is supported by the Peer Support Club.  Their objectives are to allow for connection and discussion on topics such as  strategies to increase students’ awareness of mental health issues, ways to provide information about available resources and methods to encourage students to seek help as soon as they need it.  They also serve as liaison between students and SDU. All Peer Supporters would undergo basic helping skills. The training will prepare the peer supporters  to reach out appropriately and with great respect to students in need of some support. The outcome is to build a mutual supportive and caring community in IMU.

Listed below are the types of  training and the outreach activities completed by the Peer Supporters:
Online training for Peer Support Club members
  1. Basic listening and helping skills.
  2. How to respond to Peer Email Support.
  3. How to support peers in crisis.
  4. Small group meetings.
Mental Health Week The Mental Health Week aims to promote a greater awareness of the mental health related issues among the IMU community and to reach out to those who need support.
Talk2Me Email Service Talk2Me is a confidential platform for IMU students to reach out to their peers to share about their personal issues. Peer supporters who reply to the emails are supervised by counsellors from SDU.
Responding IMU Confession Page Peer supporters are well equipped with the necessary helping skills to reach out to students in need of help, provide support for them as well as refer them to the necessary resources, if needed.

We are extremely thankful to our upper management for supporting us and we were given a bigger space to serve the IMU students better and in comfort in 2020. We have also expanded our staff numbers from 5 to 7 fully certified licensed counsellors and clinical psychologists to attend to the needs of our students.

We are here to journey with you. For more information, you can email [email protected] or drop by our office on the 2nd floor, IMU Bukit Jalil campus (opposite Room 2.07.01)

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