How can student accommodation providers encourage positive mental health?

With mental health awareness on the rise, especially in universities, it’s important to be aware of how you can help as a student accommodation provider. Unihomes discusses

Last year, the Guardian reported that rates of psychological distress and illness are on the rise in universities, and levels of mental health issues are ‘alarmingly high’. With one in three students having experienced a serious psychological issue, this should be considered in all industries that deal directly with students.

Mental health issues aren’t just the responsibility of universities, families and friends of those affected, it’s a collective responsibility. The NHS recognises housing to be a contributing factor in managing mental health, meaning letting agents and student accommodation providers have a key role in tenant wellbeing. Additionally, the British Property Federation (BPF) describes the role student accommodation providers have as an ‘unrivalled opportunity to promote and support positive wellbeing’.

With accommodation being such a large part of any student’s life, it’s important to take responsibility as letting agents, and it’s vital that this is considered when dealing with students. Having a positive relationship with your tenants will lead to better living conditions and happier students, meaning managing tenants will be much easier due to this improved communication.

So, what can accommodation providers do to help students with mental health issues? And what can you do to ensure the positive wellbeing of your tenants? We’ve put together some guidelines to follow to ensure you’re doing as much as you can.

Create a wellbeing policy

A wellbeing policy is the most valuable way to create a mental health-friendly atmosphere for agents. With this kind of policy, you allow your staff to have a base of knowledge to work from when interacting with students, as well as a point of reference for when they’re concerned about a situation. It provides staff with a way of offering effective wellbeing support, as well as being aware of signposting.

The BPF launched a mental health and wellbeing guide for student accommodation providers in 2019. The guide recommends creating a policy to ensure distressed students are dealt with effectively, and the document is a great port of call when deciding on your company’s procedure. In addition, reviewing the Student Minds Student Living Report can be helpful when creating a policy.

Employee awareness of the policy is vital to ensure that all students are treated with the same stance, and staff should be encouraged to report problems, no matter how minor they might seem.

Conduct compulsory training

Without proper staff training, issues with students are more likely to go unnoticed. By investing in compulsory training based on your wellbeing policy, letting agents are better equipped to deal with worrying behaviour and act on any concerns.

Student Minds have a specialised course available for student accommodation providers. The course covers everything you might need to know, including understanding when someone may be struggling, setting boundaries for staff, and managing conversations with students. We definitely recommend checking out the course for your staff.

Respond to issues as soon as possible

As with any house, issues are going to crop up with rented properties at the most unexpected times. From damp and mould to a broken fridge, all of these issues are likely to happen along the way.

Responding to issues that are logged by student tenants is vital for their wellbeing. Both their mental and physical health can be damaged by poor living conditions, as it affects their day-to-day.

It’s good measure to respond to issues with student homes as soon as possible, even if it seems like something small. It can be difficult to prioritise a request, especially at a busy time of year. If you’re struggling to fix the issue, make sure to communicate effectively with the tenants throughout the entire process.

Offer support for those with financial issues

Financial struggles are common among students, with the pressures of paying bills, their rent and living costs all taking a toll. More than a third of students say that financial worries have an impact on their mental health, demonstrating how important it is to be aware of this as a student accommodation provider.

Providing students with some form of support to aid with any financial struggles can be extremely beneficial. Whether it’s through allowing students to delay payments if they’re really struggling or offering a recommendation for someone to talk to if things are getting tough – it all helps.

By creating an open dialogue between the tenant and letting agent, it can take away the pressure of missed payments. This is important for relieving unnecessary stress.

Vocalise your commitment to mental health

If students are unaware of your mental health policy, they’re more likely to struggle in silence. By vocalising your commitment to student wellbeing, you’re better able to aid affected students.

The best way to inform students of your wellbeing policy is to do so when showing them around the home at a viewing, and to reiterate it when they sign their contract. This way, they are aware from the beginning of your commitment to helping them. It’s also worth shouting about this on social media, and via email marketing. Plus, this may encourage students to sign for one of your properties if they’re aware of the support you provide.

Talk to your local universities

Universities are fully equipped with the tools needed to help those struggling. Letting agents are never alone with dealing with mental health wellbeing in students, and should never spend time individually with students discussing their mental health; this is what the universities are for.

Whilst it’s extremely beneficial to have an open conversation with your tenants, and it’s good to have an open-door policy in place, letting agents should always refer students to their respective university if needed. Alternatively, if you’re at all unsure on how to focus more on student wellbeing, get in touch with your local universities.

The number of students seeking mental health support while studying has increased by more than 50% in the last five years, which is a worrying statistic. As student accommodation providers, we have a massive impact on a student’s quality of life. By being aware of the struggles a student may be facing, and acting on this accordingly, agents are more likely to provide a positive experience to students, benefiting everyone involved.

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