With an increasingly competitive job market to enter into, pressures to conform to the latest trends constantly weighing in from peers and social media influencers alike, and an evolving landscape of rigorous academic standards that they must meet, students are having to become more resilient than ever before. In addition to the usual concerns around fitting-in among new friends, finding the balance between studying and socialising, and earning money to support themselves, living independently often for the first time in their lives, students entering university today are having to deal with a myriad of all-too-often unforeseen challenges. It is therefore vital that the importance of looking after their mental health as well as their physical wellbeing is consistently highlighted – from day one on campus.
Understanding the Need for Collaboration
A holistic, whole-university approach is needed to ensure positive mental health and wellbeing is successfully promoted, and buy-in from students must be gained. Crucially, this kind of promotion and outreach is not just the role of Student Services; a diverse range of staff, and student themselves, must play a part.
While senior leaders must steer a culture of openness, understanding and flexibility, it is the faculty heads, professors and lecturers who have a core role in determining what that means and looks like for their discipline. Thinking about how curricula and assessment practice can be adapted to better suit students’ needs and ways of learning can have a hugely positive impact on the overall student experience – as well as academic outcomes.
Students’ Unions (SUs) have a key role to play in promoting this need for a more tailored higher education offer. In addition, SUs must continue to find innovative ways of sharing advice and increasing understanding among the student body of how poor mental health may manifest itself, and how students can help themselves and each other to maintain good wellbeing. SUs are also often best placed to inform students of what to do and where to turn if they are struggling or experiencing a challenging time.
What Service are Students Receiving?
Of course, it is usually the case that Student Services teams and councillors will be the ones to deal with the bulk of student mental health difficulties, and will be the ones to provide the vital support needed at times of heightened stress and anxiety.
But is enough being done?
Is it enough to direct a student, who perhaps is unable to fully articulate the worries they are dealing with, to an online self-help guide for reducing anxiety? Is it enough to tell a student who is struggling with determining their purpose or their future that they can have six sessions with a university councillor to work through some problems, but after that they’re on their own, or perhaps will be placed at the bottom of the waiting list of a local NHS provider?
Often, yes, that is enough, with a reference guide or 15 minute talk with someone who can empathise being of enormous help for the student.
But sometimes, it is not.
While such services are constantly grappling for funding and being asked to do more with less, the standard of the advice and guidance offered by these teams cannot be compromised. To help these efforts, it is all the more important for staff across the wider university to ensure they are also doing all they can, in whatever capacity they are able, to be actively considerate of their students’ wellbeing and mental health.
At the Promoting and Improving Student Mental Health and Wellbeing in Higher Education forum taking place in London on Wednesday 16th May 2018, strategies for developing and implementing this holistic approach will be discussed further both by sector leaders and best practice case studies. Participants will learn from proven methods for enhancing the support offered by Student Services, and how to ensure the wider higher education experience is more adaptable to the needs of a more diverse range of students.
This article was written by Lauren Powell