The conclusion of the 2021 Sewell report that systemic racism does not exist in the United Kingdom is deeply disappointing. While some useful individual recommendations can be pulled out from the report, it fails to name the common root cause underlying the difficulties that people from minority backgrounds face. In doing so, the report upholds the harmful narrative that systemic racism does not exist. At Student Minds, we are wholly invested in ensuring the good mental health and wellbeing of all students in our university communities. This will not be attainable until inequality, discrimination, and racism are addressed not just in higher education but our wider society.
When it comes to mental health at university, we believe that students are experts by experience, and that when they tell you about the challenges they face, it is on us as changemakers in the sector, and in wider society, to listen. We have heard from students from minority groups about the array of challenges and difficulties they face, which make success in higher education less attainable for them than their white peers. These experiences range from, but are not limited to, a lack of culturally competent care, the attainment gap, higher drop-out rates, and racism in social and educational settings. Staff from minority backgrounds are underrepresented at every level, earn less on average, and are more likely to be on casualised or precarious contracts. With this knowledge, it seems evident to us that systemic racism remains a critical problem across higher education and indeed in wider British society.
Rosie Tressler OBE, Chief Executive Officer of Student Minds, said: ”The conclusion of the Sewell Report, that systemic racism does not exist in the United Kingdom, directly contradicts what we hear from students and staff from racialised and minoritised communities and identities. Not only does this report fail to adequately identify and respond to the very real ways in which systemic racism harms people in our society, but in doing so it reinforces the idea that these harms are isolated incidents, rather than the consequence of fundamental inequalities in how our society is organised.
“We’re thinking of everybody in this country who has experienced racism in some shape or form, and for whom the publication of this report serves as a painful, aggressive, denial of their reality. We hear you, we know this isn’t good enough, and we are not going to stop pushing until you can navigate your life in safety, equity, and good mental health. Sadly, this report represents a missed opportunity, and we challenge the government and all leaders in society to recognise systemic racism for what it is in order to achieve tangible change.”
At Student Minds, we understand that this year has been incredibly difficult for students and for everybody in our university communities. Many people are tackling a combination of social isolation,uncertainty, difficulties associated with remote learning and concerns about the future without access to their usual support networks. To help these students, it is crucial we continue to join together to support students now during the pandemic and beyond.
This is why we are excited that today marks University Mental Health Day. Today we bring the university community together to make mental health a sector-wide priority and create ongoing change to the future of student mental health.
This year is slightly different from usual. We can’t come together physically on our campuses, however we have been blown away, as we have been all year of the innovation, resilience and passion of people working together virtually.
We all have a role to play on University Mental Health Day, and all year round, to create the change we need to see.
Be kind to yourselves
We want to remind students that it is okay to find things difficult from time to time, or to feel angry or frustrated or lost. This year has been hard with lots of uncertainty, university life has not looked like what you thought it would.
We also want you to know that support is out there. Student Space, developed by our team at Student Minds, is a dedicated support programme to help students through the pandemic. Student Space offers direct support via telephone and text, online resources such as articles and webinars, and a directory of university support services to help students access support that is right for them. Student Space is free and confidential.
To start a conversation text ‘STUDENT’ to 85258. We are here to listen and support you, whatever you are going through please reach out.
More financial support for students
We know that the pandemic has had a negative financial impact on many students, whether they’re paying rent for accommodation they cannot use, or they’ve lost their job, or they’ve had to invest in technology to successfully engage with online learning. This is no small sum - the 2021 National Student Accommodation Survey found that students in the United Kingdom had wasted almost £1bn on accommodation they were not allowed to access due to lockdown restrictions. We’re pleased that the government is taking a first step providing material support to students most in financial distress. However, while the means-tested fund of £50m announced earlier this year is a start, it’s not nearly enough to make a noticeable difference for the majority of students.
Today, we are calling for the government to provide a more comprehensive package of financial support available to all students in higher education.
Planning for a Sustainable Future
The response of many hardworking university staff to the coronavirus pandemic has been nothing short of extraordinary. As higher education institutions prepare for the possibility of a post-pandemic life, it is vital that the wellbeing of staff and students remains at the heart of all decision making. Student Minds has crafted guidance to support institutions through this process. Download our “Planning for a Sustainable Future: the importance of university mental health in uncertain times” for more information.
Only by protecting our mental health will we shape a sustainable future in which everyone in higher education can thrive.
Thank you for joining us today. We are proud to work with so many incredible people. Although we can’t be together physically, we will come together virtually to inspire conversations, take action and create change. Now more than ever it's important to get the nation talking about student mental health!
Find out more about University Mental Health Day: www.unimentalhealthday.co.uk
“A start, but not nearly enough”: Student Minds responds to £50m student hardship funding announcement
This week, the government announced £50m in funding targeted at students in England who are experiencing financial difficulties as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. Student Minds welcomes news that the government has provided more material support for students, however the £50m figure will fall far short of what is needed at this time.
The government funding announced on 2nd February for students amounts to roughly £25 per head, which is the equivalent of just over a single day’s rent for the average student, according to the latest available figures (1). This is inadequate to address the negative implications the pandemic has had for the financial stability, academic success, and mental wellbeing of students.
The link between financial hardship and poor mental health in students is well evidenced in academic literature and in our own research. Higher education students have not only experienced financial difficulties as a consequence of the pandemic, but they also do not have access to the same monetary support as other members of the population. Full-time students, for instance, are currently not eligible for universal credit, while international students have no recourse to public funds.
Data from NUS research (2) in November shows that a quarter of student respondents said the pandemic had a major impact on their finances, while three in five said the pandemic had at least a slight impact. On 29th January, troubling coverage from Channel 4 captured the plight of international students who were forced to rely on foodbanks and were sharing rooms with four or five others while studying remotely (3). We are deeply concerned about the extent of hardship being faced by students and are worried that some will be struggling to meet basic needs.
Rosie Tressler OBE, Chief Executive Officer at Student Minds, said: “Every student’s university experience has been impacted by the pandemic in some respect. We’re pleased that the government is providing material support to students most in financial distress. A means-tested fund of £50m is a start, but not nearly enough to make a noticeable difference for the majority of students. We look forward to seeing details of how this funding will be distributed. If the demand for this hardship funding is as high as we would expect, processing funding applications could place a significant administrative burden on university and students’ union staff. This could delay the distribution of funds when we are already in the eleventh month of this pandemic.”
She continued: “Hardship funding applications can be daunting for some students, and we are concerned that those who need this support the most will not have the means or awareness of their options to access their support.”
We believe the government should seriously explore the possibility of providing a non means-tested, basic grant to all higher education students. This acknowledges the fact that all students have been impacted by the pandemic and would also empower them to use financial support to address their own needs best, whether they help pay for living costs, enhance access to digital learning, or are invested in their own mental health and wellbeing. We hope that any financial support for students during the pandemic comes as part of a wider package of measures which will ensure the long-term sustainability of the higher education sector and support student mental health.
Need support now?
If you are a student struggling because of the pandemic, support is available. Student Space is a free, online, confidential mental health support platform, available for all higher education students in England and Wales. Student Space provides direct support via text, phone, email and web-chat, alongside plenty of online resources and a directory of support services at your university. Student Space launched in August 2020 with a £3m grant from the Office for Students and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and will be available throughout the rest of the academic year.
You can access Student Space at studentspace.org.uk. We are here to make it easier for you to find the support that you need during the coronavirus pandemic.
We are thrilled to share with our supporters that Professor Sue Rigby, Vice-Chancellor at Bath Spa University has been appointed as chair of our trustee board. Sue has been on the board since last September, and the Student Minds team and the trustee board would like to extend a warm welcome as she starts her term as chair. We are excited to have Sue lead the board and provide accountability, oversight and robust governance to help us achieve our goals to improve university mental health.
We would also like to take the opportunity to thank Dr Nicola Byrom for her amazing work leading the board. We have had the privilege of working with Nicola for many years as Student Minds’ founder and chair of the board. During this time we’ve grown, re-located, developed and achieved so much, which you can read all about in our latest impact report. We are all delighted that Nicola will remain on the board.
Student Minds’ trustee board plays a vital role in enabling us to achieve the charity's objectives. Our board is made up of a mixture of experts from across the charity, higher education, business, law, fundraising and health care sectors with a diverse range of experience. We are also very excited to welcome two new student trustees to the board, Amelia Ireland and Aneeska Sohal. It is essential for Student Minds to have student voice at the core of everything we do. Amelia and Aneeska will share her experiences and expertise as a student to help drive the board and the charity forward.
About her new appointment as Chair, Professor Sue Rigby, Vice-Chancellor at Bath Spa University said:
“I'm delighted to be stepping into the position of Chair of the Trustee Board for Student Minds. This is such an important charity that offers vital support to students and their universities. The journey through university is a life changing one and it is essential that students have the support they need to achieve their potential. I am thrilled to be able to help Student Minds to grow and thrive. It is a remarkable testimony to the thoughtfulness and determination of Nicola Byrom and Rosie Tressler. I look forward to working with the board to help Rosie as she steers the charity through the pandemic and beyond.”
About Sue’s appointment, Dr Nicola Byrom, Founder and Senior Lecturer in Psychology shared:
“I started working on the idea of Student Minds 11 years ago. It has been a privilege to see the charity grow and develop. This success is thanks to the many phenomenal people who have devoted time and energy towards the ambition of supporting better student mental health. Sue is one of these people. Working with her over the past few years has been an inspiration. She has the skills and experience to ensure the charity builds strong foundations to continue supporting students for decades to come.”
We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Ann Henshaw and Elisabeth Gulliver for their wide ranging contributions to Student Minds as they leave the board. Elisabeth started working for the charity in 2011 as the first ever employee, before joining the board in 2015 and supporting a range of work including a focus on volunteer wellbeing and peer support. During her 4 years with us Ann has worked hard to support us to shape our charities values, recruit new trustees and enable an organisational pay review. We wish Ann and Elisabeth all the best.
To find out more about the members of our trustee board visit: www.studentminds.org.uk/trustees
You can also find out more about our growing staff team and our Clinical Advisory Group and Student Advisory Committee.
Today marks one year since the publication of the University Mental Health Charter. Created by thousands of staff and students, in partnership with leading higher education organisations, the Charter provides a set of evidence-informed principles to support universities across the UK in making mental health and wellbeing a university-wide priority.
It is safe to say 2020 hasn’t been the year anyone expected. Despite the ongoing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are greatly encouraged by the commitment our university communities have demonstrated to advancing their work around mental health and wellbeing over the past year. We have seen universities investing in enhanced support for their staff and students and there are some incredible examples of the Charter beginning to inform interventions and university-wide mental health strategies.
We wanted to celebrate this work by providing a space for university and SU staff and students to share their achievements from the past year and their reflections on the future of university mental health.
Share how you have used the University Mental Health Charter this year on our virtual wall.
At Student Minds, we used the Charter to inform our guidance, Planning for a Sustainable Future, which sets out how universities can continue to take a whole-university approach to mental health during the pandemic.
We have also been developing the University Mental Health Charter Award, which aims to ensure the Charter leads to real cultural change by recognising universities that promote mental health and demonstrate excellent practice. Although we had to adapt our timescales and approach to developing the Award in response to the pandemic, we successfully completed three pilots in November. We are incredibly grateful to staff and students at our pilots sites; University of Derby, Glasgow Caledonian University and Hartpury University. They have helped to shape an Award that we are confident will support ongoing improvement across the higher education sector at a time when university mental health has never been more important.
We are also grateful to the UPP Foundation and the Office for Students who have continued to fund this work.
We plan to open the Award for applications in 2021 and will work with the sector to do so at a time and in a way which is supportive to university communities, recognising the ongoing uncertainty posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. We are excited to share further updates on our plans in the new year, sign up to the Charter newsletter to stay updated.
Thank you again to colleagues across the sector for your dedication to supporting students in an unprecedented year and we hope you have a restful winter break.
Student Space is here for students throughout the holidays. Explore our Christmas break resources and students in England and Wales can access direct support 24/7 via our support services.
Student Minds responds to government announcement that students can return home for the winter holidays
At Student Minds we welcome the publication of plans which seek to enable students who live on or around campus to return home for the winter holidays. In an announcement on November 11th, the Government shared that students will be advised to travel home in the “student travel window”. This will be facilitated by a programme of mass testing which aims to provide students with the knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions about whether and how to return home. Universities are also being asked to take instruction online from 9th December in order to support this move.
We are now eager to see how provisions will be made for students who will remain in their university area over the holidays, and how the government will ensure a safe return to campus for students in time for the new university term next year.
Please note that we strongly advise students and their loved ones consult instructions from their institution and official government guidance for up-to-date information regarding Covid-19 restrictions and travel.
Facilitating mass-testing amongst the student population
For many students, being able to return to their permanent address to see loved ones will be beneficial for their mental health and wellbeing, especially after the difficulties this autumn term. If a student knows whether they have the coronavirus, they are empowered to make informed decisions about self-isolating or returning home, which protect not only themselves but the wider population. Mass-testing therefore is important in enabling students to protect both their mental health and wider public health. As a result we want the government to ensure that every student will have access to these tests, with universities supported with the necessary resources to facilitate them in a timely, safe, cost-effective manner.
Students who test positive should be provided with adequate support and receive communication to enable them to return home at a later date for the holidays if they wish. As students who want to return home are being encouraged to do so within a narrow timescale, we believe the government ought to ensure sufficient transportation is available to safely accommodate the mass movement of students across the country.
Creating community and supporting students who stay at university for the holidays
We also need to acknowledge that the christmas period can be difficult for students and not everyone will have the ability or preference to go home for the winter holidays. Some students may have a difficult relationship with family members, some may not have a family home to return to, and some students, particularly international students, might find that they can’t or don’t want to risk going home due to travel restrictions.
Therefore, it is essential that there is appropriate support in place for students who remain at university through what can already be a difficult time of year without the additional challenges posed by the pandemic. Students staying at university must have access to essentials such as food and medicine, facilities such as launderettes, and health services. Community-building activities could also provide students with a means to connect with one another and feel less isolated over this period. The provision of all this means appropriate staffing will be necessary. We expect the government and institutions to ensure this is available by ensuring manageable workloads, fair pay, and reasonable responsibilities for university workers, to protect their wellbeing too.
Importance of religious holidays for students
Not all students of faith have been able to celebrate their religious holidays with their loved ones. We’ve seen religious holidays such as Eid and Diwali happening in lockdown. For many students being able to practice their faith and celebrate with their loved ones is key to their mental health and wellbeing. All religious holidays need to be accounted for when making decisions about guidelines that are made for the student population.
The Government needs to share how they will enable students to get back to university safely
Before the student travel window, the government should publish plans detailing how they will get students back to university safely in January for their next academic term. The ability for students to return to their university address may impact their decision to leave for winter break in the first place. Without such a plan for January, we will see another mass migration of students which presents numerous opportunities for disease transmission. As a sector and country we must learn from the lessons of September, to avoid putting students, staff, and our wider communities at risk.
Help and support is available for students right now
We understand that this has been a challenging and uncertain time for many students which is why Student Space is here to support students through the coronavirus pandemic. Students can access direct support via phone, text, web chat or email, information and resources to help them navigate university life and a directory of university support.
At Student Minds we are pleased to be able to confirm that Student Space will be able to support students through the rest of the academic year. We are currently in the process of creating content to support students through the winter holidays and look forward to sharing these with you soon. In the meantime students can explore Becky’s blog and students experiences and tips of the winter holidays on the Student Minds Blog.
Once again, we look forward to hearing the government’s next steps and plans for students to return to campus in 2021. We will continue sharing our concerns for students directly with the Universities Minister's task force and will continue to share our recommendations publicly. Any plans made need to be co-produced in conversation with students and university staff.
Students deserve a say and not to be met with so much uncertainty in their next academic term. It is essential we work together to protect the mental health and wellbeing of our student and university communities during these challenging and uncertain times.
Student Space, our programme to support students in navigating university life during the coronavirus pandemic, is now three months old. Thanks to funding from the Office for Students (OfS) and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), and by collaborating with a broad range of sector partners and experts, we have developed an ambitious resource to support students during this serious and challenging time for student mental health and wellbeing.
In the first months of the pandemic, we heard from students about how the pandemic affected their lives, from the transition to online learning, changes to social life and concerns about the future. It’s clear that the events of this year have exacerbated existing challenges for student mental health, in addition to creating new ones.
Since August, Student Space has been available to provide support students in England and Wales with these challenges, providing students with a trusted place to access direct one-to-one support, read or watch psychoeducation resources, and a directory to explore what support is available to them locally at their place of study.
As we go into a second lockdown in England and complete a ‘firebreak’ in Wales, we know that the impact is going to be felt by students and universities for a lot longer than initially expected. We are pleased to confirm that utilising the existing funding allocation, the Student Space programme delivery period has now been extended from December 2020 until June 2021, enabling us to provide support throughout the rest of the academic year.
Now that we’ve been delivering Student Space for a few months and students are well into the academic term - whether physically or virtually - we wanted to share some insights in what we’ve provided and learned so far and about our next steps.
What has this academic term been like for students?
The transition or return to university is always a time of uncertainty and change, but this year has been like no other. Students that started university for the first time broadly haven’t been able to experience the same opportunities as their predecessors, such as a rich variety of social activities, new sports and activities, meeting peers face-to-face, and exploring their campus and wider communities. Many students have had to self-isolate with people they’ve only just met in their accommodation, and due to lockdown restrictions are unable to meet new people beyond their household. Some have been struggling to engage with online learning, while others may not have had access to the technological means to successfully access course materials.
It’s not only first-year students who have been affected. Students at all ages and levels of study have had to adapt to a drastically different learning and social environment. Our listening work and the research base from across the higher education community suggest that many students are facing uncertainty about the future, job loss, academic issues, disruption to ongoing mental health support, and financial difficulties, amongst a variety of other issues.
What are we providing and learning through Student Space?
Responding to this range of experiences, a great deal of work and care has gone into ensuring that Student Space is useful, effective and aligned with student needs. Firstly, we’ve developed more than 35 pieces of psycho-education content based on the issues that we know students are currently most concerned about. These articles, created by experts, undergo a rigorous clinical review process to ensure that they’re safe and effective for the students who access them. Since August over 36,000 users have accessed Student Space content.
Secondly, we’ve developed a searchable directory of university services to support students during this period, with 139 Higher Education providers currently listed and more being added each week. This provides an accessible quick way for a student to find the support that is available to them at their institution at the click of a button.
Finally, the cornerstone of Student Space is the one-to-one support provided specifically for students. This support can be accessed via text, phone, webchat or email. At this point, we’ve supported hundreds of students through these services and we are prepared to support thousands in the months ahead. Improving the visibility of Student Space, so that more students can find and benefit from the one-to-one support, is our keenest challenge. We’ve seen a rise in the number of students accessing our direct services since the academic year began and the pressures on student life don’t seem likely to resolve themselves any time soon.
What happens next?
With the second national lockdown, it is more important than ever that we continue to listen to student experiences, work with university staff, Health organisations and the government to ensure that students are supported through all aspects of the pandemic. At Student Minds, we will continue to listen to your needs to help support you during these challenging times.
Although we’ve worked hard to deliver this programme over the last few months, we have no intention to rest on our laurels. The nature of the current situation means that students’ circumstances are likely to change. At Student Minds we are ready to adapt our approach, creating new content and commissioning new support services based on what students need.
During this next phase of Student Space we will also be compiling a list of trusted third-party support services, based on a quality assurance process developed with the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, so that students can find out about additional routes to help for specific challenges.
Thank you to all of our supporters
We want to thank everyone in the Higher Education and Health sectors, all of our volunteers, partners and supporters for all you are doing to support students and one another. Our Student Advisory, Programme Advisory and Independent Governance Groups have provided invaluable input into Student Space the last few months and as we’ve prepared to extend. We know first hand that working with the fantastic people in our communities, both hard working and inspiring HE staff as well as enthusiastic and passionate students; we can face the challenges. As the UK’s mental health charity, we also believe that there is a need for much more to be done to support and empower this generation, and to tackle the root causes of distress and health problems in the months and years ahead. We hope to see a range of support provided for students and to protect the mental health of people across the nations, at a time where it has never been more crucial.
In the meantime, please join us in spreading the word about Student Space and sign up to our mailing list to stay up to date.
On Tuesday 6th October 2020, we were delighted to receive a visit from The Duchess of Cambridge to explore what we can do to improve student mental health. Our CEO, Rosie Tressler OBE, raised what we are doing at Student Minds to support the mental health of university students during the pandemic, such as the provision of Student Space. Her Royal Highness took the time to understand and listen to a range of students and staff to find out their experiences of university life right now.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many existing challenges that have an impact on students’ mental health, in addition to creating new ones. We know the transition to university can be a key pressure point in a student’s life at the best of times, without the additional barriers to socialisation and integration that quarantine measures can pose. Existing challenges that students face include academic pressure, loneliness, financial problems, and difficulties accessing care. As such, it is crucial that we get mental health and wellbeing support right for students during the coronavirus pandemic.
This is why we developed Student Space, a new resource to support students through the pandemic. Student Space provides students with a trusted place to:
The University of Derby, who hosted the event, also discussed what they are doing at their university to support their students’ wellbeing through these challenging times, including running initiatives such as peer mentoring. As part of this initiative, nursing students are ‘buddied up’ with fellow students in the year above to provide them with peer support during challenging clinical placements. The university is also providing training to their sports clubs to enable students to support their teammates’ mental health.
We also reflected together on the importance of creating long-term initiatives to support more universities to create whole-university approaches to mental health through the University Mental Health Charter.
At Student Minds, we were elated to be joined by The Duchess of Cambridge and for the Royal Family to show such interest in the challenges facing student mental health today. We were proud to spotlight the hard work going on across the country, at local and national levels, to support mental health in our university communities through the pandemic. We hope that this visit will be the start of a long journey together improving student mental health and wellbeing.
Photos: Richard Richards and Arthur Edwards
Over the weekend, many students, staff, and members of the wider community were shocked by the escalation of measures used to contain self-isolating students in halls across the country. Some of these measures were far more restrictive than any imposed during the March lockdown. Worryingly, the application of these measures lead to students and non-students being treated differently.
Some of the accounts we have heard are deeply troubling, describing difficulties in accessing food, students being obstructed from exiting their premises, a lack of communication from institutions, and the use of security threats to intimidate students into compliance. We will continue to monitor the situation and will actively seek first hand experience and insight from students affected in order to ensure our work is evidence-led.
At Student Minds we are conscious that social distancing and self isolation can have a detrimental impact on student mental health. While we recognise the utmost importance of ensuring that our university communities are Covid-safe, we note that overzealous measures designed not to keep everybody safe and well, but to threaten students, do more harm than good. Where new lockdown restrictions are designed, either by higher education institutions or the government itself, we recommend the following:
Students should not be subject to more stringent self-isolation measures than other groups of the population. Making regulations specifically targeted at students without accommodating for the breadth of student experience is unhelpful. For instance, a mature, commuter student and an eighteen year-old student living in university halls will experience their learning and engage with campus facilities differently. Beyond this, student-specific measures arbitrarily target and penalise certain members of the community, while we have yet to see evidence which unequivocally demonstrates that students are actually more likely to violate social distancing than the wider population.
Mental health and wellbeing considerations must be accounted for at every stage of the decision-making process. The detrimental mental health impacts of self-isolation have been central in public discourse for the last six months. There is no excuse not to account for the potential harm to mental health that lockdown restrictions can inflict. Any such harms should be mitigated as much as possible, with proactive and specific measures and support put in place to ensure that our communities are as safe and healthy as possible. Universities and all levels of government should have a clear plan for how they are going to support students and staff through this period of instability, and be ready for multiple eventualities.
Students and staff should be meaningfully included in decisions about the health and wellbeing of our university communities. At Student Minds, we know the importance of representing and learning from the lived experience of students and staff. Students and university staff know what is happening on the ground and understand what would make them feel safer and more supported. They have a right to be in the room for decisions that affect them, particularly following months of turbulence and uncertainty regarding the shape of higher education this year.
We also note that many university staff have been working flat-out over the summer in order to support students as best they can. Our aim is not to blame these staff, and we want to reaffirm that the contributions of staff in universities and students’ unions have been remarkable throughout this period. However, we implore anybody involved in decisions surrounding lockdown measures to ensure that they are fair, non-discriminatory, and proportionate, with the mental health of our university communities considered at every step of the process.
If you or someone you know is in need of support Student Space is here to help students through the coronavirus pandemic. Access online resources, direct support in a way that is right for you such as through our text support and phone line and find out what support is available at your university.
We are troubled to hear of new lockdown restrictions in Scotland, agreed by Scottish university leaders, which exclusively target students.
We share the frustrations of students who have now been told not to return to their home address, not to mix with people from outside their household, and have been singled out by instructions not to attend hospitality venues. This follows months of messaging from institutions and the government encouraging students to move to campus and reassurances that they would still enjoy a full university experience despite measures needed to contain the pandemic. We have seen no evidence that restrictions imposed for a sole weekend will do much to stifle the spread of the virus, making this little more than a gesture that plays up to negative attitudes towards students while not doing anything of substance to protect them, university staff, or the wider community.
This announcement comes at a time where much of the public discourse has pinned the blame on students for the resurgence of the virus. This does not reflect the reality we see where the majority of students are indeed worried about catching the virus and passing it on to others, nor does it represent the efforts of the many students who are obeying social distancing guidelines. We thus find measures which single out students to be needlessly divisive.
As the United Kingdom’s national student mental health charity, we know that the transition period into university can be a particularly challenging time for new students even outside the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Lockdown restrictions were seen to have a negative impact on student mental health and wellbeing under the initial lockdown in March and April. As such, we are mindful that lockdown restrictions must be designed to cause as little detriment to student mental health as possible and complemented by increased mental health support.
At Student Minds we strongly encourage all students and members of the wider community to follow social distancing guidelines and lockdown restrictions as they pertain to their area. However, such restrictions must be fairly applied and their benefit well-evidenced. Any guidelines created in response to the pandemic must be designed in such a way that the detrimental impact on mental health is limited as much as possible.
We hope that, going forward, lockdown restrictions which apply to students will be co-created in meaningful consultation with student and staff representatives, to protect the mental health and wellbeing of not only our universities, but also our wider communities.
If you are a student experiencing mental health difficulties, find out what help and support is available.