While the past year has been a struggle for us all, university students have been among those who’ve fared particularly badly.
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows almost two-thirds – 63% – of university students in England say their wellbeing and mental health has got worse since the start of the autumn 2020 term.
More than a quarter of university students feel lonely often or always, the data shows, compared to 8% of the UK adult population admitting the same over a similar period.
There’s no doubt that universities across the country have worked extremely hard to move courses online and to continue to offer counselling and advice services.
Nonetheless, students have often felt isolated – whether on or off campus – and disheartened, at the very least, that they have been deprived of “a genuine university experience”.
It should come as little surprise that Universities UK, the umbrella organisation that represents 140 higher education institutions, has warned that university mental health services are facing “unprecedented demand”.
So, in these challenging times, how can universities help look after students’ mental health? Here are four suggestions
Continue to de-stigmatise mental health issues
Universities have an important role to play in making students aware that they are not alone in struggling with their mental health. Share stories and statistics about how students and university staff are feeling and are finding ways to cope. This will help break down the stigma of mental health.
Offer resources on mental health in a variety of formats
While much of university life is now online only, there are plenty of ways for students to access the resources they need if universities make them widely and readily available. This could include everything from FAQs and fact sheets, to webinars and online support groups. It’s a good time to make sure resources are available for all students.
Encourage students to look after their physical health
We know that our mental health and our physical health are inextricably linked. Where possible, offer easy-to-access sports facilities or exercise classes online. Yoga and mindfulness should be part of the mix.
Ask students what they need to look after their mental health
Make it easy for students to share information about their mental health. Ask for ideas of what more the university could be doing and track and monitor this information over time.
Helping students look after their mental health is one of the most important things a university can do, both now and when campus life resumes.
EVERFI designs courses that equip students with essential skills and information to better navigate the stresses and emotional challenges associated with college life.