With half of all school leavers now attending university or college, higher education establishments are seeing an increased number of students with mental health issues. Student debt, a challenging employment market, living independently for the first time, and fulfilling their own and other’s expectations, are all common pressures felt by students. In addition, around three-quarters of diagnosable mental illnesses are established by the age of 25. In a poll of over 1000 students conducted by the National Union of Students at the end of 2015, 78% had experienced mental health issues during the previous year but less than half had sought support. 37% hadn’t as they were worried about the support they would receive and a third weren’t sure where to get help at their university or college.
Staff in higher education establishments are also experiencing a rise in mental ill health. According to the University and Colleges Employers Association, in 2014/5 mental ill health accounted for 20.7% of employee days lost – an increase from the previous year. Heavy workloads, lack of support and isolation, together with other issues such as job insecurity and a culture of long-working hours, were key factors contributing to mental illness in a 2014 survey on the mental health of those working in higher education.
As in wider society, mental health in the higher education sector is rightly considered a strategic priority. In January, the Prime Minister unveiled plans to transform mental health support,
“This is a historic opportunity to right a wrong, and give people deserving of compassion and support the attention and treatment they deserve. And for all of us to change the way we view mental illness so that striving to improve mental wellbeing is seen as just as natural, positive and good as striving to improve our physical wellbeing.”
Higher education establishments may have differing approaches to supporting the mental health of their community but Universities UK have two principles which inform their programme of work on mental health –
- We all have mental health, well or unwell
- A whole university approach to wellbeing is required
To help senior higher education teams adopt a whole university approach, they have produced a framework on mental health.
An important part of early intervention is considered to be to provide mental health literacy training to staff and students. In September, to coincide with the start of this academic year, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England introduced a new course to provide mental health awareness training which was specifically tailored to the needs of staff and students in higher education. This was the result of 18 months work they had carried out in collaboration with Student Minds, the leading student mental health charity and academics at the University of Chester. The result is an accessible one-day course which trains both staff and students to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and to be able to guide someone to access the support they need, be it professional services or self-help. MHFA England recognises that higher education establishments are both workplaces for many staff as well as environments where staff are on the frontline, supporting students with mental health issues, and the course is supportive of both staff and student support. Completion of the one-day course qualifies you as a Higher Education MHFA Champion.
In Equilibrium are delighted to be able to offer this new Higher Education MHFA course. You can find full details about the MHFA England course in the Mental Health Awareness section of our website.
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