How to Effectively Support Student Mental Health and Wellbeing in Higher Education

Higher education (HE) institutions need to provide a wide range of mental health and wellbeing support for students throughout their studies. With the proper support services in place, academic staff can create an environment where the overall student experience is positively enhanced.

So in what ways can HE providers go about supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing?

Identifying Students in Need of Support

Determining when a student requires support is half the battle when it comes to providing mental health and wellbeing services. 

It can be difficult to identify the early-warning signs of poor mental health, with some students suffering in silence. Fortunately,  there are training courses and workshops for your staff out there where they can learn what these signs are and how to go about offering the appropriate support to the student. For example, they could learn how to identify signs of anxiety relating to depression and react accordingly.

Creating an environment of care and support is crucial for HE providers. You must develop frameworks from which students who need specialist support can be recognised. This is especially pertinent for academic staff who spend the most contact time with students as they’re the most likely to notice any changes within a student’s behaviour.

Communication Practices Concerning Mental Health

When it comes to improving the mental health of students and creating a wellbeing support framework, communication is key. If any of your staff feel that something isn’t quite right, make an effort to talk to the student. However, a staff member shouldn’t directly address the situation. Rather, make the support on offer known to the student. 

Each student is different and directly confronting an issue can be intimidating. By notifying the student of any services they can access, they’re more likely to address the issue in a way that suits them.

Communicate Non-Judgmentally

Sometimes staff members need to have those difficult conversations. There are ways in which these kinds of conversations can be carried out in the most supportive manner. For example, the staff member should listen and communicate without providing any judgement on the student’s situation.

Staff should remain calm and refrain from negative emotional responses within these situations, which could have damaging effects on a students self-esteem and worsen the situation.

In every conversation, staff must remember to express empathy, calmness and reassurance.

Promote and Maintain Confidentiality

Confidentiality must be maintained, in that conversations or concerns raised by a student shouldn’t be repeated.

However, confidentiality shouldn’t limit support or response to a crisis. If there’s an indication for potential risk of harm, either upon themselves or others, this needs to be referred to the appropriate body immediately

To alleviate the need for this, staff need to remember the previous point about communication. Students need to be encouraged to reach out to the support services your institution offers.

Signposts for Student Services

HE providers will already provide mental health and wellbeing services across the board. However, a key issue for universities or other HE organisations is making these services known to students and how to go about effectively promoting these services.

A HE provider needs to adequately advertise their mental health and wellbeing support services. Initially, this means providing an online hub for mental health services, where a student can find information, advice, contact details and even book appointments.

A higher education organisation needs to provide the following support and make clear instructions for students who are actively seeking it out:

  • Disability, mental health and wellbeing support.
  • Counselling services. 
  • LGBTQIA+ services.
  • Faith and equality services. 
  • Information on drug and alcohol abuse.

(This list isn’t exhaustive).

There should also be adequate information provided for students on both financial wellbeing and what a student can do to access local healthcare services (if they aren’t already provided by the university).

You can also promote links to other wellbeing resources that aren’t specifically affiliated with the institution in question, such as mind.org.uk or Student Minds, as well as promoting resources for your staff members to use.

Disabled Students Allowance (DSA)

All HE institutions need to offer students with disabilities the opportunity to apply for a Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). It can be much-needed financial support for students who have mental health issues, a long term illness or another form of disability.

Knowledge of this service should also be adequately advertised on student support webpages so any student who qualifies for financial aid may receive it. Similarly, if a student decides not to apply for DSA, the HE institution should still provide that student with knowledge on any alternatives.

That being said, 71% of students interviewed said the DSA support helped prevent them from leaving their course. Unfortunately, only 57% knew how to access it, meaning HE providers need to focus on making this kind of support widely accessible.

There are multiple ways in which HEI’s can go about supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing. All of these fall under the remit of improving the overall student experience. To find out more about this crucial practice, the state of student experience in the UK and best practices for an effective student experience strategy, download our useful guide.

Improving Student Experience in Higher Education

Using this guide, you’ll discover the up-to-date information on improving the student experience and creating a strategy that will truly provide for those in education. It also includes practical tips and a look into the current status of student experience and wellbeing in the UK.

Click on the link below to download your copy today.

Download your free guide to improving student experience in higher education