Education providers have a duty of care and a legal responsibility to students with any disabilities including severe or enduring mental health difficulties. As well as developing specialist services, the Disability Discrimination Act states that it is a positive duty for universities to promote the equality of students and staff with disabilities. In terms of the implementation of this, the HEPI report showcases some innovative and resourceful examples of best practice in universities across the UK. We hope that this inspire other universities to take strategic leadership in prioritising a whole university approach to mental wellbeing. Students need support at all levels: from their peers, from their family, from their tutors and from university and NHS support services.
Student mental health needs to be a joint responsibility between the NHS and universities, and collaborative working between Higher Education institutions, statutory and voluntary services is key. Our vision is for all universities and health services to recognise positive mental health as a priority for student success.
“Allowing students to be simultaneously registered with a general practitioner (GP) at home and at university”
- This recommendation also came out of our University Challenge report, which explored the challenges of the experience of those transitioning from school to university, specifically for those experiencing Eating disorders.
- A move to dual-registration would smooth the transition for students both with pre-existing and emerging mental health difficulties. This move would be beneficial for early intervention and prevention, targets in both the Future in Mind report and the Government’s 5 year plan for mental health.
“Offering alternative appointment times if there is a clash with exams or study leave”
- We also support this recommendation in our University Challenge report. At Student Minds we have spoken to many students who have expressed barriers for accessing support, one of which is accessing support at appropriate times that suit the student lifestyle and university routines.
- It is also important that students are supported in knowing what to expect when they go to the GP, as this often is a barrier to help-seeking. We have created a video as a part of our Ripple campaign that students may find useful - Speaking to a GP.
- More broadly, this recommendation can be put into practice with effective cross-organisational communication between universities, clinical commissioning groups and local GPs.
“At universities currently spending the least, funding for counselling and other support services needs to be increased at least threefold”
- As outlined in the HEPI report, we know that counselling is often significantly over-subscribed.
- One of the reasons that counselling services receive insufficient funds is due to disclosure rate, this has important consequences: low and inaccurate disclosure rates not only lead to individuals not receiving the support they need, but also contribute towards services being under resourced as funding decisions are made on the basis of disclosure rates.
- The Equality Challenge Unit published a report around disclosure in spring 2015 – a full copy of the report can be found here.
- Accessing appropriate support is key in enabling students with mental health difficulties to make the most of their time at university. 78% of student respondents with experience of mental health difficulties who had received support or adjustments said this had a positive or very positive effect on their studies and other experiences at university.
- However, 60% of students and 50% of staff with mental health difficulties have not disclosed these to their university and are not asking for the help and support they may need because of a lack of information or worries about unfair treatment.
- Therefore, it is important to encourage students to make informed and supported decisions about disclosure. For University Mental Health Day 2015, we supported the launch of the #IChoseToDisclose campaign, coordinated by the University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN). The campaign aimed to break down barriers around disclosure, empowering students with the knowledge and confidence to talk openly about their mental health with their university and wider support networks. UMHAN has also produced resources for DSA needs assessors, available here.
- Overall universities must significantly invest in a range of interventions as part of a strategic prioritisation of mental health, from preventative through to specialist and crisis services. For example, staff and student training on mental health literacy (spotting the signs and the support available), continued support for other mental health specialists in HE (such as Mental Health Advisors) peer support programmes in addition to a range of advice and support services.
“Encouraging universities to collect data and conduct a self-review of their mental health policies, before creating an action plan detailing what needs to be improved and how.”
- We need more data in order to best understand the unique experience of students experiencing mental health difficulties.
- Each university is different, dependant on setting, population, funding within the local area, the course types, accommodation set up etc – therefore a university needs to understand how to best support its unique student population.
- We are very supportive of any move to create strategic priority and a cross organisational mental health and wellbeing group with all the relevant stakeholders.
“Ensuring vulnerable students on leave from studying have sufficient mental health care provision in place.”
- It is important that in periods of transition such as leave that students are well supported. It is also vital that students are given advice and support about taking the path which is best suited to them, both in terms of their mental health and wellbeing but also their career/ interests more generally.
- We could see improved retention if focused care is given to those who need it most.
“Providing robust support arrangements for students with a history of mental health problems who are studying abroad or on placement”
- It can be helpful for universities to help a student plan what to expect in the transition from home to the new location.
- We have an advice page for students studying abroad – see here.
“Providing training on mental health policy and awareness to all university staff.”
- Training will allow for sustainable whole university approaches to student and staff wellbeing.
"Signposting reliable sources of information regarding mental health, for example the Expert Self Care (ESC) Student app.”
- It is vital that students must be supported to make decisions about the sort of support that is best for them and the use of new technology here is an interesting development.
- Universities and the NHS must also fund a range of services for students for the unique challenges students’ experience.
“Ensuring more funding for mental health research, so that the new Office for Students (OfS) and other relevant bodies have robust data on the prevalence of mental health problems among higher education students.”
- We would support this recommendation. The more data in this area the more precisely we can tailor the support available to students. However, we know from our work with students and from the research available that we need to support the implementation of these and other recommendations, based off the examples of best practice, alongside continued research.
The report also discusses trigger warnings.
"We would add the recommendation that all lecturers should reflect on whether any of their content could be triggering (i.e. talking about rape, sexual assault, violence, suicide, self-harm, body image/weight), and make an assessment about whether this is absolutely necessary. Where necessary to the course content, it should be covered as factually as possible, with explicit and graphic details removed. If it is necessary, is it covered as factually as possible? Explicit or graphic details should be removed. Content notes on the course should be shared at the start of the course, flagging potentially distressing lectures well in advance and inviting concerned students to discuss these issues with the lecturer - we should be encouraging frank and open discussion about triggering issues, in an appropriate space. It is not appropriate to present trigger warnings at the start of or midway through a lecture as no student wants to be the one to get up and leave.”
– Nicola Byrom