Helpful conversations about student mental health in the media and press are always great to see and are vital to creating change. However, some coverage can be dangerous and create more challenges and confusion for our university communities. As the UK’s national student mental health charity, we have serious concerns about HUMEN’s university mental health rankings and the surrounding coverage this week.
Our understanding of HUMEN’s “league table” is that it was intended as a tool to inform students. Unfortunately, given our doubts about its robustness and methodology, we are concerned it could be misleading, harmful, and negatively impact student choice.
There are hundreds of complex factors which can shape students’ mental health and wellbeing at university, which might not always be obvious at first glance. Things like the quality of accommodation, social opportunities, and the curriculum can have a huge influence.
We also know that a number doesn’t tell the whole story - solely looking at how much money a university invests in mental health services is reductive. You cannot get a complete understanding without looking at important factors, such as if the university is funding quality, student-appropriate services; the size and make up of the student population; whether a university is instead investing in preventative measures, or how strategically and holistically this funding is being used.
Proper policies and procedures around things like referrals and disclosures are crucial to ensuring students access timely support, but this nuance is impossible to capture with such simple measures. It isn’t clear how many of these factors have been taken into consideration by HUMEN.
Having now had a chance to review the methodology, we have multiple concerns, including that their sampling approach is flawed, that the metrics they developed are arbitrary and not grounded in evidence, and that the rankings fail to engage with decades of scholarship exploring student mental health.
At Student Minds we believe in an open, collaborative approach, where we share insights and evidence openly with everyone who shares our mission. We were disappointed that HUMEN did not share their methodology from the outset when they published their league table, at which point their initial announcement had already received considerable traction.
For these reasons, while we want to see more organisations advocating for better student mental health, we sadly can’t support the approach HUMEN has taken on this occasion.
We know that a nuanced approach to understanding student mental health, catered to each university, is the best way to improve the health and wellbeing of our communities. That's why we developed the University Mental Health Charter.
We work with universities directly and support them to adopt a whole-university approach to mental health, based on evidence-informed, peer-reviewed research developed over the course of many years.
Together, we need to get this right. We welcome HUMEN to reach out to us to discuss our work, the expertise across the sector, and our concerns with their rankings. We always encourage further investigation into student mental health, but for such a serious topic it is crucial that research is done properly.
Are you a student looking to take action to improve student mental health on your campus?
Use our Student-Led Improvement tool to create positive change at your university, explore the support available on Student Space and read students’ stories on the Student Minds Blog.