Yesterday was University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day and there were various activities going on to help promote mental health and wellbeing.
Students in higher education present some interesting challenges to mental health professionals, other NHS and higher education staff who provide services for this population.
Student health services remain a bit of a mixed bag and the support given to individuals facing mental health problems is quite variable. Clearly this is a difficult group to care for as they often live in two different locations during the year, which makes the simple organisation of care quite demanding.
Christmas is often an especially tricky time for students, notably international students who may remain isolated on campus when their fellow students head home for the seasonal festivities. This frequently coincides with a dramatic reduction in support services, just when they are most needed.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists published a report in 2011 that focused on the mental health of students in higher education and provided a set of recommendations for psychiatrists, the NHS, Higher Education institutions and other sectors involved in the field.
The recommendations from this report include:
- Clinicians are strongly urged to give due regard to the needs and vulnerabilities of patients with mental disorders who are embarking on higher education for the first time. Arrangements are needed to ensure continuity of care between home and university and back again.
- We recommend that the departments of health in the UK home countries make some form of special funding provision for dedicated student health services.
- We recommend that provision of student support (counselling, personal tutoring, financial advice as well as services for international students and those with disabilities), which greatly enhances the student experience, be maintained and, when possible, expanded.
- It is recommended that all higher education institutions have a formal mental health policy.
- It is recommended that higher education institutions consider the adverse impact of alcohol misuse in students. Steps should be taken to curtail inducements to consume alcohol, for example ‘happy hours’ and sales of cheap alcoholic drinks on campus.
- The ‘Healthy Universities’ systemic and holistic approach is commended and should be adopted as widely as possible. Mental health and wellbeing is an integral part of a healthy university and this approach has the potential to enhance the well-being of both students and staff.
The Mental Well-Being in Higher Education (MWBHE) group now campaigns for change in this area and organised a conference on international student mental wellbeing last year.
The Leeds-based national student body Mental Wealth UK has been active this year, with a number of ways to get involved with the University Mental Health Day activities.
The University Mental Health Advisors Network has also promoted a number of student and university-run events.
All of this work is badly needed. The student population face more challenges than ever before with wholesale changes in Higher Education happening alongside the economic downturn. Suicide rates have risen in the last few years and this trend is especially noticeable amongst students. The NHS and Higher Education institutions need to do all that they can to provide joined-up and evidence-based services for their students.
Mental health of students in higher education: College Report CR166 (PDF). Royal College of Psychiatrists, Sep 2011.