Students’ mental health and the role that universities play in supporting them

This month the UK appointed Dr. Alex George as Youth Mental Health Ambassador, helping to shape children’s mental health education and support in schools. It is part of government plans to build back fairer from the pandemic and ensure all children and young people are supported with their mental health and wellbeing. This is a challenge that universities in particular have been long aware of. So what are the challenges for students and how do universities help?

Mental health as a university student 

Universities have been taking greater measures to be aware of mental health issues in recent years following rising incidents of student anxiety, mental breakdowns, depression and dropping out. 
 
This can be attributed to a number of different things. We hear a lot about a mental health crisis in general, spanning age groups and demographics. However, university students, especially those starting uni for the first time, are particularly vulnerable. There are many reasons for this, not least that the shift from school to university is a big one, many go to university without knowing anyone and for most it will be the first time living away from home.

The impact of Covid-19 on student mental health

However a survey of 2,000 students in higher education, by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), found that 57% of students who participated reported a worsening in their mental health and wellbeing during the autumn term. In addition, it has been noted over the past year that the school age students have been badly affected in terms of mental health and confidence because of interruptions to education and the emphasis on home learning. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reporting:
 
“Widespread digitalisation mitigates the education loss caused by school-closures, but the poorest children are least likely to live in good home-learning environments with internet connection. Furthermore, increased unsupervised on-line internet use has magnified issues around sexual exploitation and cyber-bullying.”
 
The appointment of  Dr. George comes in response to calls for government measures to ensure that children have access to support. Of course, his role sits alongside others who work to support the nation’s mental health and wellbeing, including Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, Nadine Dorries, who have been part of implementing measures such as the NHS working in collaboration with the Department for Education to introduce over 180 Mental Health Support Teams in England and counting.

What support can you expect at university?

In our experience, UK universities have been making great strides, not only in addressing student wellbeing as a whole, but in acknowledging that students from different backgrounds can have very different experiences and challenges surrounding mental health.
 
That can range from handling feelings of anxiety and isolation to issues of confidence. Cambridge University has been especially cognisant about providing forums and webinars for anyone applying from an ethnic minority backgrounds. They have a support network in place for underrepresented groups, as well as having processes that students can tap into if they are having difficulties.
 
Most universities will have support networks to provide tools and services to help students copy and thrive. That may include counselling and online therapy, wellbeing groups and even modules on self-awareness. University websites are usually the first port of call, you may have a peer support system or may be able to speak to a tutor. There are also charities like Student Minds available to offer guidance.
 
Having the right support at university is integral to remaining health as well as achieving your personal, academic and professional goals. If you are a student or prospective student attending a UK university and would like to discuss mentoring and support, contact the team at CamVision for a free consultation.