EDITORIAL. Never Alone: Universities’ key role in supporting students’ wellbeing and mental health

Among the many issues universities are currently concerned about, students’ mental health and wellbeing have become a core concern. According to a YouGov’s survey (2016) a quarter of our students suffer mainly of depression and anxiety, or, mostly, both combined.  The need to perform, financial worries, and being in a different and new social environment can all contribute to making students feel overwhelmed at times. The IPPR study Not by Degrees (Thorley, 2017), however, paints an even more disturbing picture.

The number of students disclosing a mental health difficulty or disability has increased. Far from being just a matter of being overwhelmed, life as a student is becoming more stressful. Partly, the increase is due to the willingness of students to disclose their mental health problems although there are still differences between groups with post-graduate students being less open to disclosure. But disclosure by itself is not a full explanation of the problem. The fact remains that poor mental health can have serious, and at times devastating consequences on the individual. Poor academic achievement, dropping out and, sadly, suicide can all result from a lack of response and support by both universities and the health system.

One of the IPPR report’s recommendation, among many, is for universities to make mental health a strategic goal. As a response, Universities UK launched the #stepchange action to make mental health a key strategic priority. A framework  comprising 8 aspects was developed to support universities to adopt a whole university approach. As Professor Steve West, Chair of Universities UK Mental Health in Higher Education Working Group, suggests ‘… the main message is self-improvement. Universities should adopt mental health as a strategic priority, implementing a whole university approach, with students and staff involved at all stages of the journey’.

In the running up to Universities Mental Health Day 2018 on 1 March, Efficiency Exchange has dedicated the second of its series to help raise awareness of student mental health. Each week throughout February one of our bloggers will share their experience, work and research. Each blog will bring to our attention the many ways in which universities are already responding to the challenge.  Grace Anderson starts by introducing the work Student Minds does to support students and staff’s mental health. Laura Waller and Becky Wooley share with us how the ‘Sensory Study Room’ and the ‘Study Happy’ Programme supported by the Library at Warwick University has managed to create a dedicated and accessible study space. Kate Williams, University of Leicester, and Melanie Crofts, University of Northampton, share with us how their universities have addressed  gender-based violence on campus through the ‘HeForShe’ campaign and the New Spaces project respectively.


Do you have an initiative, programme or project which addresses mental health? why not sharing it with us and continue the conversation? Get in touch cristina.devecchi@cceg.org.uk

Cristina Devecchi
Editor-in-Chief of the Efficiency Exchange and an Associate Professor in Education, Faculty of Education and Humanities, at the University of Northampton.