Psychological well-being in this next phase of the pandemic: listening, reflecting, sharing.

Dame Shirley Pearce DBE

AUA Honorary President

It was a great pleasure to be involved in the AUA awards a few weeks ago and to learn more about the work that AUA members are doing to promote excellence in higher education. It’s clear that a large part of what makes AUA special is the way members support each other in the teams in which they work. This has been particularly important during the covid pandemic when we have all experienced personal and work-related stresses that we might never previously have imagined.

If there is one good thing to have emerged from all the pain we have been through, it is the increased discussion of the personal challenges we face and the more open recognition that we all need support. I have observed a much greater willingness to listen and engage with colleagues’ problems (sometimes they are just so obvious from the zoom videos), a much greater effort to try to understand our colleagues as ‘whole people’ and a growing willingness to reflect and share our own thoughts.

Listening, reflecting and sharing experiences are three important parts of effective psychological support and will have helped many in the difficult months we have just experienced.

This next phase of the pandemic will bring new challenges. The release from full lockdown and the joy of better weather brings a sense of optimism. We will do our best to return to ‘normal’ but some changes to business and working practices will continue. In addition, the continuing presence of the virus and its worldwide impact will mean that a sense of threat to our ways of living and working will remain. We will live with raised levels of personal uncertainty for some time.

I hope that as we move out of this lockdown, and things start to feel more normal, we retain our increased sensitivity and willingness to talk, openly and non-judgementally, about psychological distress. I hope we can build on this and embed an acceptance of ‘the whole person’ at work. Let’s continue to listen, reflect and share our experiences. Psychological distress and mental health problems have, for too long, been something of a taboo subject. A sign of weakness that we feel we need to hide in case it undermines our colleagues’ confidence in our ability to do our jobs.

Listening, reflecting and sharing experiences are three important parts of effective psychological support and will have helped many in the difficult months we have just experienced.

It seems particularly relevant that the annual lecture in November 2020 was about mental health. It was a privilege to talk to Alastair Campbell about the way he coped with his own psychological distress and the questions from the audience show that his words really struck home. It was clear how uplifting and refreshing you found it to listen to his openness and frankness about his own mental health challenges.

It made me think about how I could use my term as Hon President of AUA to support this move towards greater openness and play my part in reversing the stigmatisation of mental health problems in HE.

AUA is already doing a great deal to support members. The AUA community is a safe place where members can find support. The AUA Forum enables members to seek and provide support and guidance. There are a number of resources on the website too, including blogs and webinars published throughout the pandemic on the topics that mattered most to members such as resilience, managing change and leading with kindness.

The responses to Alastair Campbell’s lecture suggest we need to keep the discussion alive especially as our working patterns change again. I would be interested to hear how you think we can support each other to cope well as we return to our ‘new normal’. How do we help members listen, reflect and share thoughts? Are these useful terms to use as a headline reminder? I want to listen to what you have to say, to reflect on how best to support AUA and its members, and to share thoughts and examples of best practice that we become aware of.

Please send any message you want me to think about to  I will give careful thought to all suggestions.

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