Developing a support system for students

Student life 9 October 2020

Alexander Sannikov, mental health expert and a psychologist at the Center of Tutor Support, talks about the importance of mental health among students, explains the difference between a tutor and a psychologist, and shares about counseling resources available at the university.



How did the idea of developing psychological support for students come about?

Three years ago, I already had the experience of working as a psychologist at SAS. Symotenously, I’ve joined the first generation of tutors, when the project has just launched. Our main goal was to support students in choosing their individual education trajectories. Education trajectories is a revolutionary program for Russian universities, which helps students to choose what suits them best, simultaneously providing them with multifaceted skills. When we just launched, the tutor system needed technical assistance. It soon became apparent that tutors can not help students with self-determination and choosing trajectories, while they are busy with administrative work or psychological assistance. So we split the workload. Now the Individual Education Trajectories Department is in charge of the administrative work. Tutors help students organize their education plans. I am responsible for psychological support. Of course, this segregation isn't strict, please remember that we are always happy to help.

Why psychological support for students is so important?

There is a stereotype that the younger generation is “more vulnerable" and "maladapted" to living in the modern world. However, it is simply not true. It is important to understand that the world is constantly changing.
The new challenge before universities is to anticipate this change and prepares students for it. Modern students constantly join new social groups and are learning to communicate with different kinds of people. Back in the day, groups settled pretty quickly and you had a set social role, however, this is not the case now. Students constantly explore their self-identity. They like to make their choices independently. This level of responsibility is a serious stress for an experienced mature person. To be honest, the people we know as "experienced and mature" wouldn't be able to cope with such freedom. But our students can. So to put it more metaphorically: even advanced acrobats use safety nets. Progressive students need the University to be their support system. And we are.

What is the task of the psychologist at the tutor support center?

The strategic task is to collect statistics and develop mechanisms that will help in the future to create a full-fledged psychological service that will blend in seamlessly with the rest of the University system. The main task is to find out in time "who needs help" and explain that there is nothing wrong with this: we will work on the solution together.

How can a student understand that they need to see a psychologist?

It is common to be fearful of going to a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Many people check their physical health every year, but mental health is also important and they are interconnected.
There are usually physical tells connected to mental health problems. For example, you may experience loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, frequent mood swings, or on the contrary apathy. Maybe you are starting to feel that the new challenges are getting too intense and you cannot cope as well. All of these are a reason to see a specialist. After the initial diagnosis, we will discuss a consultation plan (often the problem is solved in 3 to 7 meetings). If necessary, I will share contacts where else to apply for psychological or psychiatric support.

Do the students need to pay for psychological support? Is it anonymous?

It's free and always anonymous. I usually need to inform the university administration about the number of people applied, but I do not provide any personal details or names. Remember that everything shared during the session is strictly private. The only exception can be made if I believe that a student may come in harm's way.

How can a student make an appointment? 

The University's website has a tab "Tutor support" which contains a tab "Psychological support". If you click on it, you'll be redirected to the "Make an appointment with a psychologist" button. If you click on it, a questionnaire opens in the "Google Form". Then I get a notification, I call back, and we set the day of the meeting.

Source: UTMN Department of Strategic Communications

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