How Universities Can Support Student Mental Health
The UK university system is in the midst of a mental health pandemic. According to Randstad, in 2020, 37% of students experience worse mental wellbeing after entering higher education, with 64% of students believing their studies and lifestyle negatively affect their mental health. What can universities do to help these students and support student mental health throughout their studies?
Listen to students
If universities are to actively improve the student mental health experience, they need to listen directly to the concerns of students themselves. Forums must be created that allow two-way communication between students and university leaders, so students are able to talk plainly about the sources of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
In doing so, policies and procedures regarding mental health, as well as specific mental health campaigns on campus, will be properly informed by the realities of student mental wellbeing. This will ensure that they are best designed to make a real impact, as opposed to landing poorly – something that may well appear to students as ‘well-washing’ (similar to greenwashing, whereby actions to support mental health are taken that they are superficial and ineffective).
Gain specialist advice
The first step for universities is to acknowledge the need for expert advice and discussion. Chancellors should seek the assistance of dedicated student mental health charities such as Student Minds who are committed to understanding and devising approaches to improve mental wellbeing.
Universities must look to higher education lawyers to get the right advice when forming policies too. Without a keen legal knowledge, policies might be poorly formed, negatively impacting students’ mental health and potentially open the institution to legal action.
Talk about talking
Students should be encouraged to talk about their mental health, both to their peers and counsellors. Regular lectures should be arranged that highlight the importance of talking about mental health, ways to broach the subject, how we can be better listeners, and how we can talk to people that are going through a difficult time.
Set up counselling services
Students need to have professional help on hand in case they are struggling with their mental health or going through a period of crisis. Universities should retain the services of several counsellors so they are able to cope with demand – a long waiting list for help will only exacerbate the scale of the mental health problem.
Help students make healthy choices
While part of university life is always going to involve socialising, nights out, and the drinking that often goes with it, lifestyle can have a huge impact on student mental health, so it’s important that universities support students in making healthier choices. These need to be inexpensive and accessible – free gym subscriptions, healthier canteen and lunch choices, and structured schedules are all excellent ways to do this.