By Professor Mushtak Al-Atabi Provost and Chief Executive Officer Heriot-Watt University Malaysia
Is our youth stressed? A survey earlier this year revealed that 59% of Malaysians aged 16- 24 exhibited higher levels of stress or anxiety in the previous 12 months. Fortunately, older groups of citizens did not yield such alarming results.
Does this mean we should be concerned about young people, whether they are in high school, at university, or newly employed? Is it simply a phase they will grow out of?
In recent generations, COVID-19 posed the biggest global health crisis. Mental health has been profoundly affected by this and continues to be. Everyone, especially the younger generation, suffered from uncertainty, anxiety, and social isolation.
Enjoying good mental health and well-being is key to living a good life, maintaining physical health, and also to the long-term productivity, competitiveness, and success of both the individual and the nation.
As we emerge from the aftermath of the pandemic, we need to remain aware of the rampant societal, economic, and geopolitical uncertainties that remain, and can still unnerve us.
While some mental health issues require professional psychiatric and/or pharmaceutical intervention, providing a supportive environment in which the human spirit can flourish can go a long way in building resilient individuals, organisations, communities, and nations. Creating such an environment at work, school, and home is the responsibility of all leaders.
What is the best way to accomplish that? Here's how Heriot- Watt University Malaysia has taken a purpose-driven flourishing communities approach across the University.
Our EmPOWER Programme was developed to help students grow holistically. It is a structured programme designed to positively transform students' mindsets and help them become intentional and purposeful learners who know their strengths, their emotions, and their growth opportunities. There are four levels to the programme:
1. Watt Level: Knowing and Leading Self
2. Kilo Watt Level: Leading Teams
3. Mega Watt Level: Leading Communities 4. Giga Watt Level: Leading Enterprise
A Watt is a unit of measurement for power. It is named after the Scottish engineer James Watt who perfected the steam engine and unleashed the first Industrial Revolution.
A key component of the programme is the integration of academic learning with opportunities to develop soft skills such as entrepreneurship, innovation, critical thinking, decision- making, storytelling, and collaboration. During the first level, one discovers oneself and builds capabilities for effective leadership. By developing this self-awareness, students advance to leading teams, leading communities, and leading enterprises where they develop the mindset of a job creator.
Research has shown that individuals who are clear about their purpose and what brings meaning to their lives are happier, healthier, and more successful. In this uncertain world, we believe that we should build resilient, purpose-driven graduates who will be better equipped to deal with the complexities and vagaries of the 21st-century workplace.
To achieve that, we developed a multi-session workshop that every member of our staff and every student needs to go through at the beginning of their journey with us to discover who they are, identify their purpose, and develop a plan to mobilise the purpose into a positive impact on the world.
This workshop is a key part of the Watt level of the EmPOWER programme and culminates by articulating a personal “Impact Statement” that students will use to guide them throughout their academic careers and beyond. We believe that a sense of purpose will be the foundation of a fulfilling life and career.
A Flourishing Community of Students
To further align the well-being of the community and the students, the #AHappierU (the U here is both of You and the University initiative is used across the University to promote the 10 Keys for happier living identified by psychologist Vanessa King.
These are: Giving, Relating, Exercising, Awareness, Trying-out, Direction, Resilience, Emotions, Acceptance, and Meaning (GREAT DREAM). #AHappierU is intended to build a flourishing community of students and staff where everyone is supported by and supportive of, others so that we can all achieve our full potential.
Purpose-Driven Education is not the sole provenance of academics; #AHappierU is led by students and staff from both in and out of the classroom. Human Resources, Campus Services, Career Advisors, and Counsellors, all play a key role in delivering our goals which we measure with a Happiness Index.
Gratitude is well-recognised as a contributing factor in building better mental health and well-being. Being grateful for what we have helps focus our attention on what is going on well in our lives and helps us deal more effectively with the negatives. When exchanged between individuals, it benefits both the giver and the recipient. That is why we teach our students the art of saying thank you in an impactful manner.
Technology is another arrow in our quiver. As a global university, we use the SafeZone app to respond to any emergency by members of our global community 24/7 at any location in the world. This award-winning app is available to staff and students at a click of a button where first responders can be available in seconds.
To reinforce our support for our community, Heriot-Watt University Malaysia has partnered with the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) to provide mental health training to all our employees, as well as with the Green Ribbon Group (GRG). We also have qualified counsellors working worldwide to help our community when it needs professional assistance.
Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, as a purpose-driven community, believes that it is our responsibility to ensure the emotional well-being and mental health of our students, staff, and community members. Bringing down those stress levels in Malaysia is something we want to contribute to.
Mental Health awareness is something to be relegated to a few - it is a way of life that is practiced by many.