Mental Health in UK Universities

Our education magazines have covered various developments and initiatives in mental health across the UK education sector, from various different angles.

One of the publications that has had most coverage of mental health is University Business (UB); unsurprising as the rates of mental health problems amongst students in higher education are far higher than in other demographics across the country.

Coverage of these pressing issues includes allocation of government funding to address student wellbeing, staff training, and provision of facilities and services for both students and staff. There are various ways in which universities across the country are addressing the issue of wellbeing, and even the fact that there is now a widespread recognition of the problem is a step up from ten years ago.

An article published in UB at the end of March, for example, reported that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has invested funding into projects that will ‘particularly benefit those student groups affected by differential outcomes highlighted in previous HEFCE research’. These groups include various demographics, including ‘those presenting with mental health issues’. This specific funding allocation is a positive step towards levelling the playing field for those that suffer from a mental health condition whilst in higher education.

Another approach that universities are taking to tackle the problem of poor mental health amongst students is to provide accreditation to universities that commit to implementing services that aid student wellbeing. An article from February’s UB covered the University of Salford’s launch of the UK’s first accredited wellbeing scheme in partnership with ProtectED. This is the ‘first accreditation scheme in the UK’s higher education sector to comprehensively consider practices across the areas of student safety, security and wellbeing.’ In order to gain this accreditation through ProtectED’s programme, ‘applicant institutions must self-asses their own policies, processes and practice against the ProtectED Code of Practice.’ As well as this self-assessment, universities will also be required to undergo peer review, a verification visit from a ProtectED-approved assessor, and, importantly, student assessment.

Coventry University have also taken the ‘knowledge is power’ approach by ensuring that all healthcare students undergo Mental Health First Aid training, alongside training on physical ailments. The programme aims to ensure that all healthcare graduates are able to both deal with problems that arise, and to notice the warning signs of mental health issues. The scheme is ‘part of the university’s drive to raise awareness of mental health issues across the university, which has also seen 200 academic personal tutors and professional services staff undergo the training.’

As well as these specific approaches to mental health, UB has also reported on the current state of the UK’s higher education sector, and how it as a whole is dealing with the fact that this area of student wellbeing has been largely ignored in policy and provision in the past. The article highlighted the shocking fact that a recent Unite report and HEPI/HEA report revealed that ‘levels of student wellbeing are actually lower than those of 16-24-year-olds not in higher education.’ The article includes comments from Hamish Elvidge, chair of the Matthew Elvidge Trust, which supports universities and charities in tackling mental health problems in students. Mr. Elvidge really sums up how universities have their work cut out for them, saying “So much of what is done in business and education environments is about providing support when there’s a problem. It’d be better to prevent the problem in the first place.”

Luckily many UK HEIs are taking note, and investing their time and finances in bettering their wellbeing provisions – something that will hopefully become standard practice in the future.