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Student mental health: how to provide support all year round

According to Randstad, 50% of students considered leaving their course in 2022 due to mental health issues following negative impacts as a result of the pandemic. The Guardian states that the pandemic is still affecting students today – and early data from Nightline suggests call numbers for 2021-22 were 30% higher than that of 2020-21, which had already seen a steep increase of 51.4%. This has since gone up a further 23% since the start of the new academic year.

Let’s take a look at why this is happening and how, together, we can better support students’ mental health in the future.

Girl sitting at the end of her bed holding her chest

Starting uni and mental health

Many students choose to leave home for the first time to attend their dream university, often with the misconception that they are fully prepared to live an independent, adult lifestyle. In reality, many are in for a shock. This huge lifestyle change can be a daunting experience for students as many are stripped from their home comforts, internal support systems and safety nets. They have to dive straight into the deep end of adulting. This can often result in isolation, ultimately leading to a decline in their mental health.

Peer support groups 

It’s very easy to advise students to reach out and ask for help in times of need but without the right resources and guidance, it can be easier said than done. Our research shows that 52% of students turn to their friends and family for financial wellbeing advice, but are less likely to seek help for other forms of wellbeing issues such as mental wellbeing. So how can we create a space where students feel comfortable and are able to speak to others when they feel their mental health has taken a turn for the worse?

According to Mind, “many students find that meeting others with experience of mental health difficulties helps them feel less alone and makes it easier to talk about their own mental health”. If students feel like they aren’t alone and won’t be judged, this will increase the number of students that speak up and ask for help. It’s crucial to create a space where students can go and rebuild the support systems with their peers that they had to leave behind at home. Hosting webinars, panels and setting up on campus peer support groups can be a great way to encourage students to stand together and create friends they can turn to in times of need.

Therapy recommendations

According to the ONS, 23% of students said that their mental health has deteriorated since starting university, and the NHS reported record numbers accessing therapy, with figures showing a 21.5% increase in 2021/22 compared with 2020/21.

Not only that, but the NHS have now helped a record number of 1.2 million young people with their mental health as students return to university. With that being said, the NHS mental health services are currently very overstretched – this is where your SU can come into action! SUs and unis as a whole can really help students by creating safe spaces and building communities to give students a place to talk about mental health candidly. This won’t replace the free mental health support that the NHS provides, but it will certainly add value to students who might be on a waiting list for NHS provided therapy.

In a recent blog, we looked at the link between students’ wellbeing and student engagement and discovered students that are engaged during their time at university are less likely to struggle with poor mental health. So, what can your SU do to help new and returning students to keep them engaged throughout their time at university?

Bringing affordable events to your student members, whether that be liberation events such as panels and workshops, or social-focused events like club nights, can encourage students to socialise and build long-lasting, trusting friendships at university. By building connections with their peers, they will be better equipped to face challenges that come with university life. Discover more about our upcoming fireside chat with Big Narstie designed specifically to give your members insight into his life, his incredible journey dealing with Bipolar and raise awareness for University Mental Health Day this March.

Find out more about how to encourage conversations around mental health and money on campus by watching our recent webinar with Mental Health UK on-demand. And don’t hesitate to get in touch for more information on how we can bring liberation events to your students during term 2 and beyond!