What makes our wellbeing support different?

What makes our wellbeing support different?

Wellbeing and Productivity

Cambridge Academic Performance is based on 10 years Occupational Therapy expertise specialising in student support. Our coaches are trained mental health occupational therapists who specialise in supporting students to manage stress and achieve their best academically. The increasing rates anxiety, depression and stress in young people need addressing. For instance, 66% of 18 to 24-year-olds report suffering from severe forms of stress around the world (Statistica 2022). We work with independent clients and in schools, universities and colleges to support student mental health and wellbeing.

Stigma prevents students seeking help

The service exists to capture students who would normally avoid mental health and wellbeing support. Research shows that up to 80% of distressed students will not access mental health support and that they are most likely to turn to friends, family and academic staff for help (Silently Stressed Report, Scotland). They will therefore not get specialist support.

The priority for these students remains their academic success and therefore, sessions with an academic performance coach at Cambridge Academic Performance is non-stigmatising and fits with their academic goals. Everything about our approach, our website and our focus on performance is designed to make this type of support palatable and interesting to students.

Within a performance coaching context students will have the opportunity, perhaps for the first time, to explore how their wellbeing is impacting their academic performance. They can look at strategies that improve their wellbeing and thereby their performance and productivity.

This is an occupational therapy approach to performance and makes sense to students because it is practical and avoids stigma.

We offer a combination of therapeutic techniques and practical academic skills.

Examples of what we do:

  • Design a revision timetable whilst embedding techniques to maintain the regime when mood or motivation drops.
  • Help organise workload in a balanced way, that improves overall performance and tackles perfectionistic thinking.
  • Plan exam technique and develop individualised stress management strategies beforehand.

Mental Health

The mental health of children and young people is a growing cause for concern. Rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm and eating disorders are all on the increase with half of all mental health problems beginning before the age of fourteen.

Students in particular are considered at high risk for mental ill health, with university students being at particular risk due to the challenges that they face. Mental health conditions reported by students in 2020/21 were nearly seven times as high as a decade ago (Commons briefing 30 May 2023). In 2022 a survey by the mental health charity Student Minds, found that 57% of respondents self-reported a mental health issue.

NHS specialist mental health services have been overrun with record levels of referrals from schools in England where there has been a five-fold increase in students disclosing their mental health conditions. COVID and the pandemic further exacerbated an already difficult situation in which students reported higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of happiness than the general population (ONS 2022).

Isolation and increasing risk

Many students fear the stigma attached to seeking mental health support and as a result will not get help. The problem here is that isolation and a lack of support significantly increase mental health risks. It is common for students who are struggling to withdraw and isolate themselves and therefore increase the risk of further deterioration in wellbeing.

Mental health issues show up as academic problems

This often means that mental health issues only come to light when a student has reached a crisis point. In many instances family, friends and staff are unaware that the student had become unwell. They may be viewing mental health issues through the lens of academic disengagement rather than recognising the health issue that is present.

The World Health Organisation takes the position that good mental health is an essential foundation for learning. By describing our occupational therapy service as academic mentoring we align the service to the way students experience their problems – as barriers to their academic success. We focus on academic success as the most important goal for most students, but believe the route to this success must include positive wellbeing and good mental health.

I would not hesitate to recommend the services of Cambridge Academic Performance for working with children with SEMH in school. This is the most perceptive and successful mental health intervention we have been able to access during the five years I have been in this role.

Sarah Barratt, Inclusion Coordinator, St Matthews Primary School, Cambridge.

Confidence and Motivation

Developing and maintaining motivation over time is one of the most important building blocks to a successful academic career. Improving confidence and motivation are amongst the top goals that students wish to address coming in to our service. National research indicates that lack of motivation is closely linked to increased stress levels and feelings of overwhelm. The result is that at times of increased pressure, such as during exam season, students report very high levels of overwhelm and anxiety which leads to procrastination – just when they want to work at their best.

Fear undermines self-confidence

We find that many students have learned to motivate themselves using fear – fear of failure, fear of disappointing others and fear of an unsuccessful future. And whilst fear can motivate in the short-term, it becomes problematic in the long-term as it increases anxiety and undermines confidence.

Support to reconnect with personal strengths and past achievements helps students to develop motivation through building self-confidence and self-belief. This can be challenging for students who have come to rely on self-criticism and a constant sense of pressure as motivating strategies. Understanding how unhelpful self-criticism and fear can be to achieving high performance can be a major step in developing a new approach to self-motivation.

Athletes and Students

Just like athletes, when students feel well and in good condition, they are at their most motivated and produce their best results. We help students to identify their strengths and to transfer these into new areas through goal setting, experimentation and refinement. This builds their confidence which in turn is highly motivating.

Depression and Anxiety

Within the UK the rates of depression and anxiety in the student population has been on the increase over the past ten years.

Younger people aged 16-29 are 28% more likely to experience anxiety (ONS 2024). In addition, 34% of people aged 18 to 24 reported feeling anxious most of the time and did not think they were coping (Mental Health Foundation 2024).

Many students do not realise that they are suffering from depression but feel instead that they are being ‘lazy’. They often minimise their own anxiety by unhelpful comparisons to other people’s higher stress levels and how they are coping better.

Anxiety is common in young people

Many students live their academic lives managing anxiety, whether this be in relation to making friends and fitting in or completing their coursework and achieving their grades.

We help students to learn stress management skills and to understand how prioritising their well-being and self-care will help their mood and anxiety levels. We teach them how adrenalin works, what the stress cycle is and how to use strategies to calm down before and during exams.

Lee helped my son to understand what was happening to his body when he was experiencing episodes of anxiety, panic and surges of adrenalin…. He gave him techniques to help alleviate the adrenalin surge and his inbuilt reaction to flee/avoid a situation that he perceived as ‘dangerous’ or ‘threatening’. Each week they worked through different elements to adjust my son’s mindset.

As a parent, seeing your child in any form of distress and not having the tools to ‘fix the problem’ is heart breaking. I will be forever grateful that we were introduced to Lee at Cambridge Academic Performance.

Testimonial from a parent of an 11 year old son.

Stress and Perfectionism

Students are rarely taught how to manage stress as a standard part of their education. This can lead students to adopt unhelpful coping strategies which appear useful in the short-term but are unhelpful in the long-term such as over-working and perfectionism. These unhelpful strategies can ultimately chip away at their confidence levels. Managing stress is a major life skill and responding effectively to different types of stress plays a significant role in academic success. We help students to recognise their personal stress signature and identify effective stress management strategies to help manage the stress.

Developing an Inner Coach

We encourage students to explore different ways of thinking about themselves in order to manage their stress. One approach is by developing an inner coach that uses constructive self-talk rather than self-criticism.

Sleep Management

Sleep Issues With Students

Many students struggle with their sleep. Losing sleep by regularly staying up late to study can be counter-productive to academic performance. Sleep deprivation can affect academic performance significantly. The timings of sleep have been shown to correlate closely with students academic achievements by affecting their mood and their ability to concentrate.

We work with students to explore the quality and timing of their sleep and to think about their beliefs about sleep. We teach students about the structure of sleep, for instance, how REM sleep plays a key role in memory and learning. We also help students to make effective changes in their sleep routine and explore helpful and manageable experiments in changing their sleep routines, for instance, how they wind down to sleep.

Understanding the structure of sleep seems to be key to motivating students to make positive changes in their sleep routine.

It became clear to us that it was important to find the right way to help our Yr 11 daughter gain confidence and study skills more than targeting a particular subject. With Lee’s approach, our daughter has learnt tips to manage all her revision and exam techniques which has helped her stay calm and increase her confidence. We noticed as the sessions progressed, our daughter would look forward to them, and was full of beans afterwards.

Judy, July 2015