Mental health and wellbeing column: Student services in the round

Kate Williams
Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Kate Williams, student support manager at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, outlines the conservatoire's approach to student wellbeing.


It's been shown that mental health difficulties can be more prevalent among our creative population. Striving for perfection, as performers often do, can mean mental health takes more of a knock when high expectations aren't achieved. At Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) we believe that during a student's time with us, mental health and wellbeing is one of the most important aspects.

Also, crucially, the onset of mental health conditions typically occurs between the ages of 18 and 24 and can be exacerbated by the transition from home to university and adjusting to life as an independent adult. Data from our work with universities in the southeast of Wales revealed that, compared to these, RWCMD proportionally has the largest number of students needing mental health support, even though it has the smallest student population. It's clear therefore that if we want to be truly inclusive, we have a responsibility to take student mental health very seriously.

Preventative measures

Knowing the effect that leaving home and coming to higher education can have on young people, we've introduced a full induction process for new students. Over the first few weeks of their new life, students learn of the college's values while also being introduced to college life, their peers and their teachers in a creative, stimulating way. The induction makes clear that, although students are studying at a conservatoire and are expected to work hard, under pressure to perform to the best of their ability, this should never be at the expense of their mental health and wellbeing.

The induction forms part of the college's holistic approach to mental health support, which means working with the admissions office and halls of residence, as well as with academic staff. This joined-up, proactive approach means that often we can work with students before they reach crisis point; but if this is reached, we are there to support them as soon as they need it.

Specialist services

As mental health is such a priority, we've created a specialist in-house team delivering Disabled Students’ Allowances and other specialist services. This means that students have access to weekly mental-health mentoring support, designed to work alongside their courses. I work with heads of departments across Music to ensure that students’ needs are considered, and that adjustments are implemented in a timely, sensitive way that adheres to the Equality Act.

The school's offer

Working alongside me at RWCMD are full-time specialist staff: two study-skills tutors and two mental-health mentors. These highly skilled professionals, who hold professional memberships in the respective areas, are passionate about their work. Ben Cowley, for example, one of our specialist DSA mentors, has just been awarded an MBE for the work he did for the NHS during covid (while also volunteering for Shout 24/7 in his spare time).

Amy Hubbuck, our other specialist mentor, continues to work for charities such as the Women's Trust to bring awareness to violence against girls and women. The Student Services team are qualified in every aspect of a student's mental health or wellbeing, including suicide prevention skills and emergency first aid. Team members all follow a robust professional development path to ensure that best practice is adhered to at all times.

A bespoke approach

Alongside this, we provide tools and support for our students that we create ourselves or can signpost them to, and develop talks and training programmes for our students. Because we have only around 850 students, we get to know and support them with a bespoke approach, whether that's just having a cup of tea or finding out directly what the issues and concerns are, responding accordingly.

During the last few years, RWCMD has been working with other south-east Wales universities to create a University Mental Health Liaison Service in partnership with the NHS and community mental-health nurses. This launched in April this year and has been a step-change for us; we’re already starting to see the difference it's making. Having community mental health nurses on site and the access to the best mental health practice available means that we can continue to go above and beyond for our students.


Find the Student Services Partnerships Evaluation and Quality Standards toolkit here:

Student Minds resources: