Student Welfare

Continuing on the theme of jobs that are now coming to an end I thought I’d blog about my experience as a Welfare Tutor for Vanbrugh College. I started being a welfare tutor in 2009, helped largely by having worked as a Music Tutor for Vanbrugh for three years before then and having a connection to the students.

The job of a welfare tutor in the University of York is varied. The pay for it is free accommodation in the university blocks alongside the undergraduates, usually sharing kitchen and toilet facilities. Often tutors get a bad reputation as people that get free accommodation for not doing much and there probably have been some cases of tutors that have not taken their duties seriously. However the workload is by definition varied. Our job is to be there as a first response to any sort of issue that turns up, from a simple kitchen brawl through making cups of tea for homesick students, right through to helping out students with serious disabilities and mental health problems. We have two weeks of training at the start of the year and some welfare events and summits during the year, during which there is often lively debate on certain issues.

To be clear, if we dealt with cases of suspected mental illness our role was not as a guidance counsellor, but to put them in touch with trained mental health professionals, and support them in the process. As someone once put it, what we mainly provided was “Tea and Sympathy”.

There are many reasons I decided to get into welfare tutoring, not least was the help it would give my own finances. Apart from that though I had had experience in the past with mental health issues, specifically people I know being diagnosed with schizophrenia or being bipolar. I’ve also had troubles in the past fitting into places and am a keen advocate of people that don’t feel they have a voice, or friends. I’m also a keen committee member and enjoy having my say.

I came to really care about the process and the students I was looking after. I had some pretty serious cases to deal with in my first year and in the second year the welfare team had to deal with the death of a student among other things. The welfare teams each year were fantastic and I’m in constant awe of the dedication and knowledge of the provost David Efird and the college administrator Georgina Heath.

Although when I leave I’ll be happy to hang up the responsibility that came with being a tutor, I feel I’ve learned a lot about mental health and how it’s perceived by others. The story this always brings to mind predates when I became a tutor. At one time I met a student outside the music department who I had not seen in a year or so and asked them how they were. The student replied that they weren’t well and had taken a leave of absence. It transpired that the student had clinical depression and was as a result hallucinating that the flowers could talk to them. I remember at the time not knowing what to say or how to take it. I had never heard of such a thing. Nowadays I would know much better and I wouldn’t have been as scared as I was to hear such a thing.

I had at that time however already experienced people with mental health problems and am ashamed that I wasn’t able to react in the right way. It strikes me that very few people would know how to react to that situation or know what to do when someone close to them suffers from anxiety related disorders.

To this end I hope I can start supporting the mental health charity mind by adding a donation link to my website and blog posts. I’ll also hopefully be taking donations at concerts and similar. Please visit their website and have a look around. They are a fantastic charity and do some really good work. Please consider donating today. I’ve yet to finalise details of the best way to do this but watch this space.

Sorry for those who expected more of a musically orientated post today, more will come! I’m enjoying blogging regularly and it seems a more constructive way of procrastinating from the work I should be doing…

Audio version here:

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