Student mental health in the healthcare professions: exploring the benefits of peer support through the Bridge Network
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Purpose Student mental health is a major challenge for higher education in the twenty-first century. Students undertaking healthcare professionally affiliated courses can experience additional pressures that negatively impact on their well-being and can make it more difficult to access support. The paper aims to discuss this issue. Design/methodology/approach To address some of these challenges, the Bridge Network was established in one healthcare school in a higher education institution. It is a peer support network co-produced with students studying on healthcare courses to provide group-based support to promote mental well-being. Student peer group facilitators draw on their own lived experience of mental health challenges or of being a carer. The groups provide a safe space for students who may experience mental health difficulties to share, gain support and connect with each other. This paper explores the journey of setting up the Bridge Network. Findings Although the group has been well received and various factors have supported its establishment, there are several difficulties that the network has faced. Power imbalances between students and academic staff have been challenging for the co-produced design, alongside enabling positive and safe discloser for healthcare students. However, the network has raised the profile of mental well-being for healthcare students and encouraged supportive conversations about the issue as well as providing enriching volunteer opportunities. Originality/value The paper explores the strengths and challenges of establishing peer support for students undertaking vocational healthcare courses.