Mental health is becoming increasingly central in debates in the higher education (HE) sector.
We also know that approximately 29 per cent of students experience clinical levels of psychological distress, associated with increased risk of anxiety, depression, substance use, and personality disorders.
The role of accommodation
Students’ wellbeing is greatly affected by their environment and the conditions they live in. Accommodation is therefore a significant part of a student’s experience whilst at university.
It is often staff working in student residences who are the first to pick up on students’ signs of distress or mental health difficulties. By supporting accommodation staff to take action, both strategically and on the ground, the mental health of the university community could be significantly improved.
This training was designed after conducting interviews with students and staff, and is tailored to the types of circumstance that HE staff may experience. Staff can listen to students compassionately and still maintain appropriate boundaries through being clear on referral pathways.
Guidance for the accommodation sector
The Student Minds report Student Living: Collaborating to Support Student Mental Health in University Accommodation offers guidance and recommendations for the sector. It emphasises the importance of partnerships between universities, accommodation services, statutory services and third sector organisations.
The university population is unique in that it is regularly in transition which can cause issues in terms of fragmented provision of care. However, committed collaborations within the university community can drive better support for students, offering early intervention for students in distress or experiencing mental health difficulties.
The report offers starting points to review current practice and create positive change. It discusses six key areas when implementing a collaborative approach to student mental health:
- auditing referral pathways and policies
- workplace wellbeing strategies for staff
- mental health and welfare training for accommodation staff
- provision of information and resources for students
- community building
- designing buildings for wellbeing.
The report’s recommendations include:
- the establishment of a university-wide mental health strategic working group
- investing in compulsory mental health training that is tailored for front-line staff to support appropriate early intervention
- timely signposting to support and clarity on boundaries
- creating communal space for social interaction and to enable activities to run that build a sense of belonging when developing new accommodation.
A whole-university approach
Universities UK has launched a programme of work to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of students and staff in HE. This will set out the case for a strategic approach and to develop a whole-institution framework of support.
Student Minds hopes for greater cross-sector collaboration and shared learning between university and accommodation sectors, helping with the move towards whole-university approaches to supporting student and staff mental health.
Student Minds is the UK’s student mental health charity. To find out more information, tel 01865 264168 or email firstname.lastname@example.org