By Rachel Piper
Student Minds’ Policy Manager responds to some of the arguments set out in HEPI’s recent paper contributing some of our understanding from what we have learnt from the sector, on the issue and implications of measuring student mental health and wellbeing.
HEPI’s Policy Note ‘Measuring well-being in higher education’ makes a case for increasing the consistency and coverage of measuring mental well-being in HE. It argues that we must clearly distinguish between ‘mental health’ and ‘mental wellbeing’ in order to both understand and respond to concerns in HEIs. The paper states that the conflation of the two terms has led to an “inaccurate funding” of student support services, specifically focusing on a reduction of counselling services. It concludes that further measurement into wellbeing will help us better understand the wellbeing of our university communities, and subsequently address gaps in provision.
At Student Minds we welcome discussion about effective approaches to create healthy university communities. Whilst we appreciate the value of measuring wellbeing focussed on here, we would like to acknowledge areas raised in this article which may benefit from deeper study and caution - through looking to wider developments such as the role of The Student Mental Health Research Network (SMARTEN), which is looking into the complexities of measuring student’s mental health and wellbeing.
In this opinion piece, I focus on 4 key areas:
Why might we say ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing’? - Understanding the use of models
The HEPI paper recommends that “We should be consistent in our terminology and clearly distinguish between mental health and personal well-being.” and argues that the conflation of mental health and well-being is not helpful for tackling either low levels of well-being or supporting those suffering mental ill-health.
Why does advocating for counselling alone miss the bigger picture? - The necessity for a whole university approach & wide range of provision
The HEPI paper near exclusively focuses on the role of counselling, and expresses a concern that counselling services are reducing in capacity due to the conflation of terminology and a lack of data.
Why do we need to exercise caution in using mental well being measures as a metric? - The power of encouraging excellent practice
The HEPI paper suggests that the collection of wellbeing data will enable universities to compare one another, potentially through both metrics and regulatory frameworks. Whilst we would support the need for collection of data on a national level through surveying the student and staff body, in order to understand what the sector needs, we would advise caution about using mental wellbeing data as a metric, or a proxy for measuring the standard of a university:
How can a university understand the mental wellbeing of its community? - The tools at our disposal
Whilst there is value in collecting national data to support the sector to improve, we would extend this conversation to encouraging universities to collect data that supports them to make the best strategic decisions for their specific expression of need.
We hope to further respond to a number of areas in further depth, such as commenting the role of the NHS and third sector organisations in collecting and responding to wellbeing data. We hope to see these discussions continue - and we will share the results of SMARTEN’s rich discussions and findings in this area, as they come to light.