Case study: Transforming lives through building mental fitness at Middlesbrough College | NCFE

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Case study: Transforming lives through building mental fitness at Middlesbrough College

After discovering Fika at an NCFE conference, Middlesbrough College embedded the app within their curriculum to empower students to take control of their mental fitness. Fika was launched to staff and learners, and now has 1,066 registered users who have already completed 4,849 exercises and achieved 178 certificates. 

We spoke to Emma Betiku, Counselling Coordinator at Middlesbrough College's Wellbeing Centre, about her experience embedding Fika into the curriculum. We also chatted with Sarah Hildon, Student Mental Health Ambassador, who has been championing Fika at the college, encouraging her fellow learners to join the movement for mental fitness with Fika and NCFE.  

Emma Betiku, Counselling Coordinator at Middlesbrough College

Emma Betiku, Counselling Coordinator at Middlesbrough College

Sarah Hildon, Student Mental Health Ambassador, Middlesbrough College

Sarah Hildon, Student Mental Health Ambassador, Middlesbrough College

Becoming proactive, not reactive 

Emma was looking for a resource for staff and learners at Middlesbrough College that could be used before a crisis, rather than after.  

When asked why they chose Fika, Emma explained that: "As a college, we're good at targeted support for students after negative events, but we want to get better at implementing proactive, preventative solutions that would prepare staff and learners to handle tough situations. Just like training for a marathon - you wouldn't just show up on the day, you would prepare in advance. That's what this mental fitness journey is all about to me: working on the mental muscles." 

When we asked Sarah what mental fitness means to her, she responded: “To me, mental fitness is having the ability to deal better with any problems whether you’re feeling unhappy or having difficulties. I’ve found Fika really helpful for this, especially the videos where people are talking about their experiences. It reminds me that I’m not alone, and it’s helpful to know others are going through similar situations.” 

Successfully embedding Fika 

Middlesbrough College embedded Fika into college teaching, alongside the academic curriculum. They also assigned learners as mental health ambassadors to promote Fika around the college, as well as introducing staff wellbeing champions. 

Emma said: "We wanted to embed Fika from the start. The outcomes we're seeing so far and the development of the learners' employability is exciting. I can already see how much more confident and capable our learners are, and staff now have a greater understanding of why mental fitness is so important. Without embedding Fika into our teaching, we would've struggled to bridge that gap between how staff and learners understand mental fitness compared to physical fitness. Mental fitness should be made a part of the curriculum at all schools and colleges - we have physical education and mental fitness needs to be the same, it's just as important." 

When asked how they embedded Fika, Emma explained: "We implemented a mandatory induction programme for the leaners. Firstly, tutors completed the 'Essentials' course so they could roll it out in their tutorials. We also created a video highlighting the benefits of Fika, what skills learners could be working on, and the importance of mental fitness being the same as physical fitness. We love to focus on your 5-a-day fruit and veg, 30 mins daily exercise, and your Fika mental fitness exercises! Learners have given us really positive feedback so far. It's becoming a part of their daily routines - they get a sense of achievement when completing exercises and gaining new skills. It's supporting their academic studies too." 

Sarah, a student Mental Health Ambassador who has been championing Fika at the college, told us: “Recently, I’ve been using the weekly plan feature. I was feeling stressed about an assignment I had, and I’d been trying to do it for a while but felt like I was running out of time. To avoid last minute scrambling, I used the weekly planner tool in Fika to set out all the steps I needed to take to achieve my goal. Ticking off a list and seeing that I’m making progress helped me to feel better and reduce panicking.” 

“I also really like the ‘don’t do’ list in Fika. I find it’s really easy to pile more tasks on and take on too much if I use a mental to-do list. The ‘don’t do’ list helps with prioritising and means I don’t end up disappointed by things I haven’t done. The important thing to me is managing workload and making myself less stressed.” 

Mental fitness skills for life 

As well as promoting Fika to the learners, Emma has been using it regularly to support her own development. She explained: "I've been setting myself targets for my mental fitness. If there's a specific area I want to improve, I go into the app and do those exercises. I used the Mental Fitness Profile to assess my level of fitness, and now track my ongoing progress in each of the 7 skills. Before Fika, I was a lot less conscious of these areas, but now I'm reaffirming boundaries, feeling more productive and increasing my productivity." 

"This time of the academic year can feel overwhelming and extremely busy, so I've been using the Motivation course to help. For the learners, the Connection course has been especially useful. It's daunting forming new relationships at college anyway and coming out of Covid has made this even harder for them. The Connection course helps to foster and support these friendships.”  

Sarah also spoke about the impact Fika has had on her daily life: “So far, I’ve found that it has helped me to cope better when I run into difficulties. If I’m stressed, I now have techniques to calm myself down, like mindfulness and thought observation. I’ve also found it very helpful for dealing with assignments. If you’ve got a busy workload and a load of stuff to do in your own time, it’s good for dealing with the stress of it all and not rushing.” 

The big question 

Finally, we asked Emma and Sarah the 'big question' – would you recommend Fika to other centres and learners?  

Emma said: "Absolutely! I like that it's inclusive and for everybody. When accessing traditional mental health services, it can sometimes be a bit of a 'postcode lottery' which services learners at the college can access, so I love that Fika is something everybody can use. The app and website make it really easy and accessible for learners and staff to use anywhere." 

And Sarah agreed: "I would definitely recommend – it’s useful for everyone, not just those with mental health difficulties. I think it should be part of the curriculum – as a mature learner, my academic life was disrupted by my mental health going downhill. You need to be in good shape mentally to deal with academic challenges!”

Just like training for a marathon - you wouldn't just show up on the day, you would prepare in advance. That's what this mental fitness journey is all about to me: working on the mental muscles.

Emma Betiku, Counselling Coordinator at Middlesbrough College