SAE – Creative Education Leaders Nurture Student Mental Health

L-R: Will Centurion and Lina Ly
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Many creatives will experience mental health challenges in their working lives, often tapping into confronting subject matter to create emotive content.

Leading creative education provider, SAE Creative Media Institute, recognises this and has been supporting up-and-coming creatives with a range of health and wellbeing strategies through its national Student Support Advisor (SSA) team.

The SSA team at SAE is student centred, with a proactive approach to mental and emotional healthcare. Will Centurion is a qualified psychologist and SSA at SAE Melbourne who has over 20 years of experience in the creative industries as a dancer, singer, and actor. Since the beginning of this year, Will has completed more than 200 student consultations.

“We focus on early intervention rather than damage control,” he says. “We make sure we reach out and check in with students at all stages of their journey. It's our job to make sure that students have someone who advocates for their mental health, while they navigate their studies and the challenges that come with their endeavours.”

Will says this last year has been “really tough” for students: “We have had to support students emotionally, psychologically, creatively, as well as spiritually. With all creatives, their craft is so clearly attached to their identity, and as soon as there's a disconnection there, they feel that quite viscerally.”

These disconnections can be destabilising for students, according to Will. “We are all connected to elements like purpose, structure, safety, creativity, community, goals, hopes and routine,” he explains. ”Whenever there’s a disconnection, there's a lot of negative messaging that fills those gaps – like self-doubt, futility, feeling as though you don’t belong. The bigger the disconnection, the greater the pain. As SSAs it is our job to help students bridge those gaps.”

Advising students that they are not defined by their art and giving them a regular routine has been critical for success, according to Will.

“There's a big difference between a creative’s personal and professional identities,” he says. “Helping them to reconnect with themselves and their wellbeing is an important part of the process. It could mean they’re then able to maintain their academic activities and commitment to learning.

“For a lot of students, creating a routine is really important for their wellbeing. For example, what time do they want to wake up, go to campus to study, and do some self-care? It’s about organising their week with as much structure and purpose as possible, so they don’t feel lost.”

With the world enjoying a new normal after COVID-19, Will explains that the focus for the SSA team continued to be on student wellbeing, with the addition of creative growth.

“We’re still supporting students to help them reconnect to their base needs for motivation, routine, order, structure, goals, identity, support and belonging,” he says. “COVID-19 forced us to become isolated in our day to day lives. Coming out of that now, the aim is to create a sense of community and to reinforce the importance of co-regulation - concentrating on their wellbeing and creativity.”

SAE Melbourne student, Lina Ly, who is studying Bachelor of Film, says the past few years had been a challenging period for her.

“I think there were times in previous trimesters where things got quite overwhelming, where my headspace was not great,” Lina says. “Knowing the SSAs, like Will, have been available throughout it all has been a lifeline for a lot of us.

“Getting their advice on things like counselling services, and special consideration for work I have to submit, has been really valuable.”

In the last QILT survey, SAE was ranked number one for learner engagement and student support, compared to Australia’s top five universities. SAE General Manager, Dr Luke McMillan, says every student is valued and supported with their creative journey.

“Positive mental health is a vital part of how we think, feel, and act,” Dr McMillan says. “The National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing recently found that almost two in five people aged 16-24 years had a 12-month mental disorder.

“Our SSAs are made up of experienced and dedicated professionals. They play an invaluable role in providing a range of strategies to support our students in all aspects of their lives, so they can successfully transition into the creative industry.”

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