Today is University Mental Health Day. I hope we will hear announcements from universities which represent real progress in the way we offer support to our students. Face-to-face counsellors have borne the brunt of rising demand for support for too long; it’s time we started to build ‘wraparound’ care for those who cannot sit on a waiting list for months, who need help out of hours or who want to get help online.
Facing up to the reality of demand means not only looking at the number of students needing support, but looking at how they want to get help. It’s about re-examining the whole model of care. This also means looking at how to engage hard to reach students, providing out of hours counselling, supporting the ‘invisible frontline’: academic staff who students will turn to when they need help. It’s not just about increasing counsellor numbers.
Earlier this year, Student Minds published a report which shone a light on the changing role of academics in supporting student mental health. As demand for help increases, it appears so is the pressure felt by academics who are often ill-equipped to provide advice or signpost the student in the right direction.
The academics interviewed for the study spanned five UK universities. They said that responding to student mental health problems was an inevitable part of the academic role.
So, in an effort to provide the right support for students whose mental health continues to suffer, we must ensure we have the right systems and policies in place. As academics can be a student’s first port of call, ensuring that this ‘early intervention’ is as positive as possible could have a huge impact on their wellbeing.
Universities such as the University for the West of England (UWE) are leading the way when it comes to a commitment to change. UWE recently announced it has signed up to the step change programme, and has a raft of welfare services available for students. Importantly, this commitment to progress also includes Kooth Student, an online counselling service available to all students for free.
Today I know we will hear heart-breaking stories of students whose mental health has led to unimaginable suffering. My hope is that we will also hear universities making real commitments to overhaul support and that we begin to see real change.
National Development Manager, Kooth Student