When I was planning this issue, I decided some months ago that the theme of ‘working in a crisis’ seemed appropriate. For many months, the ‘crisis’ in student mental health has featured in the media, along with accounts of the struggle for student services – including counselling services – to meet demand from students, tutors and parents. Inevitably, such reports have created huge stresses within services: resources are stretched and the need to devise new and creative ways of working never seems to quite keep up with the level of demand. For many, there is no ‘business as usual’; rather, there is a sense of running to stand still, and sometimes of reacting rather than responding to mounting pressures.
Little did I know that ‘working in a crisis’ would encompass not only the surge in student demand, but also a sudden and alarming health crisis sweeping the globe. In many cases, this has required a rapid switch to online work, and a need to adapt systems and procedures to enable business to continue. For others, there is a sense of threat as services close down – will they actually re-open? Sessional staff salaries may be cut; senior managers might not appreciate the need for specific training to move counselling services online, or for additional levels of security in order to safely use online communication platforms.
The unfolding Covid-19 pandemic looks set to run for many months, and will impact deeply on all of us in our work and personal lives – and yet, our job is to support others and to contain their anxieties at a time when we too may be struggling with the impact of having to work from home, using technologies we do not feel familiar with, or even facing a loss of income or employment.
In responding to this strange new world, there can be a real sense of struggling to find solid ground to stand on. We are not immune from the emotional and economic impact of the situation we face; many of us will be concerned for loved ones, struggling with enforced separations, and the novelty of working from home and caring for children who no longer have access to schools. I hope that institutions can engage with the reality of these situations in such a way that the wellbeing of staff and students is paramount in their thinking. Ultimately, beyond sensible precautions, there is a limit to what any of us can do when faced with a virus that can spread like wildfire; the hashtag #BeKind reminds us that in situations beyond our control, kindness – to ourselves and others – is one of the most powerful antidotes to fear and isolation.
Do write for the journal about your experience of responding to this crisis and how it is impacting on your work: it’s important that we acknowledge the reality of what is occurring, while at the same time reaching out to connect with others who are facing similar or greater difficulties. I wish you all the very best over the coming weeks and months.