According to Mind, a mental health charity in England and Wales, 1 in 5 students has a diagnosed mental health problem. This manifests itself in a number of different manners and there can be a number of different reasons why these issues surface. Going to university often brings about massive changes in students’ lives, causing uncertainty, additional stress, and many other emotions, and this can often be especially exasperated by the fact that many students first go off to university coming into the winter.
Most of us have experience in the fact that the cold, dingy, grey days of winter can be detrimental to our mental health, and therefore it is especially important for universities to help their students with their mental health during the winter. That does not mean, however, that they should not be focusing on it for the rest of the year, but an extra effort should be made during the winter months to enable students to both settle in effectively and also prosper whilst they are at university.
When it comes to the role that universities can play in offering mental health support to their students, there is plenty that can be done. Universities are not only formal educational institutions, but they are also central in producing independent individuals, many of whom are stepping away from the family unit for the first time, living new experiences, and helping to shape their futures in many ways.
Communication, Efficiency, And Reliability
It is important that universities understand the way their behaviour impacts students and their mental health. By adding extra stress and pressure on their students, this can have a detrimental effect on their mental health. Communication has been especially important during the pandemic, and universities that fail to fulfil their duties in terms of good communication with their students, behaving efficiently, and reliably, can find that they increase anxiety amongst their students.
It is vital that students are clear about what is expected from them – as well as what they can expect from their university – and that the university fulfils these expectations.
Help To Deal With The Issues
Many students come up against the same issues when they go to university. These issues can turn into mental health problems if they are not dealt with early on. Another way that universities can help their students to reduce the chance of mental health problems such as low mood and anxiety is to help them to avoid these issues in the first place. For example, giving students advice and support in looking after their finances can help them to avoid financial difficulties which can often lead to mental health problems.
Encouraging Peer Relationships And Support
Support does not need to necessarily come from the institution itself. Often students will support each other through difficult times and universities should be doing what they can to encourage peer relationships and friendships. As well as promoting anti-bullying policies, providing safe spaces, promoting team-working, kindness, and generally creating a positive, supporting environment.
Mental Health Support Schemes
Mental health support schemes such as helplines and counsellors should be available to all students. It is key that every student has access to these services and they should all be made aware of what is available and how to get this help. Universities should encourage their students to use these services and promote them as much as possible.
Additionally, universities can provide their students with out of education support services which are hugely beneficial for students looking to step away from campus life. Speaking as a former student, knowing there were healthcare services outside of my university campus that I could go to for mental health support was incredibly comforting. Helping Hands Home Care who provide professional mental health care support, state that “Being diagnosed with a mental illness can be life-changing but doesn’t necessarily mean loss of independence.”
Increasingly, universities are able to look for behavioural patterns and red flags in student behaviour that are signs that a student is struggling with their mental health. Signs such as a decrease of engagement, withdrawal from student life, or changes in attitude can be tell-tale signs that a student is having mental health problems. These signs can be picked up on by tutors and mentors, other students, or technological means, helping potential problems to be dealt with earlier.
The issue of student mental health should be central to every decision that is made within an educational institution. Universities have a duty to support their students as much as they possibly can, especially during the winter, nurturing the best environment for their students to learn effectively, as well as leaving the institution a well-rounded, mentally healthy individual.