Clare Bradshaw of Unihealth has urged universities to review ‘preventative’ strategies and solutions to stem the sharp 50% rise in student demand for mental health services (as reported by the Institute of Public Policy Research) and the onset of more serious mental health issues.
Student mental health statistics
The statistics are alarming and have put UK universities under considerable pressure:
- Of the students who died by suicide, only 25% were known to mental health services
- 28% of men who had experience of mental health issues said that they had not sought help compared to 19% women
- Of more than 1,000 student respondents surveyed, 82% reported suffering from stress or anxiety
- Of more than 1,000 student respondents, 75% did not seek help because they didn’t know where to find it, were too embarrassed or thought it was a waste of time
Bradshaw believes that by giving today’s students – who are under unprecedented financial, academic and social pressures – the tools to navigate the ups and downs of daily life, wellbeing teams within HEIs can be freed up to deal effectively with urgent cases.
Barriers to seeking mental health counselling
In Unihealth’s survey of 1,000 students entitled Upwardly Mobile: Can phone messaging plug the gap in student mental health support, they discovered that the biggest barriers stopping students from seeking help are as follows:
- 37% of students did not know where to seek help
- 21% of students felt embarrassed about seeking help
- 20% of students were cautious of having to pay for treatment
- 18% of students thought that seeking help was a waste of time
- 4% of students didn’t understand what the problem was so were unsure of the type of help to look for
Clare Bradshaw, executive manager, Unihealth, comments:
“The University Mental Health Charter comes as a welcome response to Sam Gyimah’s (former Minister for Higher Education) rallying cry to universities to put mental health support top of the agenda. Its inception comes in the context of a sharp 50% rise in student demand for mental health counselling services (IPPR Report – Improving Student Mental Health in UK Universities) – a rise which in part is no doubt due to the efforts that have been made to increase awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and the unprecedented financial, academic and social pressures facing today’s students.
“Despite increased investment, university departments are struggling to meet the rising demand for mental health services, which traditionally focus on treatment rather than prevention. It’s a bit like building more motorways to ease congestion. It doesn’t tackle the cause of the problem – merely deals with its symptoms. I believe the answer lies in focusing on preventative support – a key component of the #stepchange Framework which aims to help university leadership to take a whole university approach to mental health and the University Mental Health Charter.
“By giving students the skills to manage their wellbeing and increase their confidence we can empower them to monitor their mental health and promote self-care, which not only benefits the student by enhancing their ability to deal with life’s ups and downs, but also reduces pressure on valuable one-to-one support services.
“Early intervention and the promotion of healthy behaviours are key aspects of a successful preventative wellbeing strategy and The Charter emphasises a need for a clear understanding of the different barriers that prevent students seeking or getting support. That way, universities can support students who for personal or cultural reasons are reluctant to seek help. The importance of this is clear when we look at recent suicide statistics. According to the IPPR only 25% of students who die by suicide were known to mental health services. We also know that in the UK men are less likely to seek medical support for a mental health problem than women as reported in the Mental Health Foundation’s survey of people who had experience of mental health issues in which 28% of men said that they had not sought help compared to 19% women.
“As a final note, the importance of clear and frequent signposting to support services is an obvious but fundamental part of any support strategy. In the Unihealth ‘Upwardly mobile’ report entitled ‘Can phone messaging plug the gap in student mental health support?’ 82% of more than 1,000 student respondents reported suffering from stress or anxiety, yet shockingly three-quarters of them were not seeking help because they didn’t know where to find it, were too embarrassed, or thought it was a waste of time.
“Today, with all the existing channels of communication available, there’s simply no good reason why a student would not know where or how to get the help they need.
“By rewarding and recognising those universities that have a robust, positive mental health strategy, The Charter sends a clear message that mental health is a priority and encourages the sharing of good practice across the sector.
“In turn, by putting in place mental health strategies, universities are sending out a broader message that they care about and are willing to invest in their students’ wellbeing – which in itself can promote a student’s sense of belonging and feeling of being supported.”
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