Today marks University Mental Health Day 2023. But what is the event about, and why is it important?
What is the day about?
University Mental Health Day 2023 is about the higher education community starting conversations and promoting cultural change in student mental health.
According to the UK-based charity Student Minds, University Mental Health Day is about adopting a whole-university approach to mental health and wellbeing. Furthermore, the organization believes there can be no good student mental health without good staff mental health.
Universities need to be healthy places to study and work, so a whole-university approach is essential for thriving university communities. The charity hopes that this year’s event, particularly set against the backdrop of university lecturer industrial action, gets the nation talking about university mental health in what may be a very stressful time,
What does research say about student mental health?
In November 2022, Student Minds partnered with Alterline to conduct a nationwide (UK) survey of students, exploring their current mental health and wellbeing.
The research findings show positive improvements in key wellbeing measures after notable drops during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes more students reporting high life satisfaction compared to 2020/21 and fewer reporting low satisfaction.
However, these levels have not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and other issues, such as the cost of living crisis, are also detrimental to students’ wellbeing. Below, we highlight some of the key findings and share some views on what must be done to support students.
The research findings demonstrate the scale of mental distress within the student population.
Additionally, over the last 18 months, Student Minds has consistently found that around one-quarter of students have a diagnosed mental health issue. This latest research also found that one-third of students have poor mental wellbeing according to the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales, and one-third say their mental health has worsened since starting university.
A whole-university approach to mental health is vital in ensuring students are well-supported during their studies and are not held back by their mental health.
Students also continue to juggle several competing priorities. There is a clear risk of overwhelm and burnout among the student population. Over half of the respondents said they never or rarely have the energy to spare, and increasing numbers reported feeling stressed about managing their time, money and juggling study with paid employment.
At the same time, almost half of the respondents said they had cut back on things they do for enjoyment to help with their financial situation, and a further one-third said they are likely to need to in the coming months. This is a concerning finding, given the critical role of hobbies, social connections, and relaxation in supporting positive mental wellbeing.
The Government needs to act
For student mental health to be safeguarded and improved, the Government needs to act now to lessen the financial pressure students are experiencing during the cost of living crisis, according to Student Minds.
The organization is, for example, urging the Government to increase maintenance loans in line with actual inflation rates, to consider the re-introduction of maintenance grants for those most in need of financial support, and to ensure all policy measures are student-inclusive.
The Chief Executive of Student Minds, Rosie Tressler OBE, has also signed an open letter in collaboration with other mental health charities, calling on the Prime Minister to act with speed and compassion to tackle the root causes of poverty, to prevent suicide and an inevitable rise in mental ill health.
Further, Student Minds is joining organizations from across the mental health sector to support calls for the Government to publish the ten-year mental health plan they previously agreed to develop. It belives a dedicated mental health plan, which focuses on prevention and treatment, is vital in addressing mental illness and supporting good wellbeing.
Who is Student Minds?
Student Minds is the UK’s student mental health charity. According to its website, it empowers students and members of the university community to develop the knowledge, confidence, and skills to look after their mental health, support others and create change.
Its various programs train students and staff in universities across the UK to deliver student-led peer support interventions and research-driven workshops and campaigns. By working collaboratively across sectors, it aims to share best practices and to ensure that the student’s voice influences decisions about student mental health.
Its mission is to “transform the state of student mental health so that all in higher education can thrive.”
In a time where students are facing more pressures than ever, equally, their mental health is more susceptible than ever, too. With mental health support services struggling and ever-increasing numbers of people needing that support, students make up just another element of society waiting in line for treatment – a line that gets longer daily.
We all recognize that students need further help and support in an age where financial hardship and the cost of living crisis are making attendance at university an increasingly unattractive option.
Yet it is in that same environment that the future of us all lies within tomorrow’s graduates, and for that reason alone, more simply must be done today.
What are your thoughts on the current state of university studies and the impacts on student mental health? Let us know in the comments.