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Going further: Creating a joined-up approach to student mental health

4 March 2021

The Higher Education sector has gone on a journey with mental health in the past decade – one we’ve recently written about – and Unite Students has been a part of that sector-wide effort. On University Mental Health Day, we share how we approach student mental health under our own roof on a day-to-day basis.

Over the past decade, the numbers of students seeking support for mental health and wellbeing has risen dramatically, as has the number of university applicants disclosing a mental health condition. This trend has only been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19; in our recent student survey, 77% of students surveyed said they had struggled with their mental health and wellbeing as a result of Covid.

This can sometimes reach crisis point. Student accommodation is where a majority of severe student mental health incidents occur, and so our city teams are well-prepared for moments like these. All city staff know the role they play in student wellbeing through our Student Services Framework, which was designed with the recommendations of the University Mental Health Charter and British Property Federation’s Student Wellbeing in PBSA Guide in mind.

Our city teams are trained to recognise ways in which student mental health issues can present, and how to raise issues and bring them to our support team’s attention, with incidents being confidentially logged through our reporting system Each of our city teams additionally has access to mental health first aiders, with 80 in London alone.

But a student’s mental health journey doesn’t begin or end with a moment of crisis – it’s simply a snapshot of a moment in that journey. Our dedicated student support resource enables us to not only provide immediate, reactionary support to students, but to take the next steps to continue that support afterwards. By joining the dots together, we aim to prevent future crises and help students to succeed.

Next steps include assessing a student’s needs through a triage process, providing welfare checks afterwards where needed, and signposting them to specialist services where relevant. Every region has a Student Services and Welfare Manager to oversee cases in triage, and there are three risk levels which determine the action taken; all cases are examined through the lens of student wellbeing, and the risk to a student’s chances of success.

As an accommodation provider, we do not provide therapeutic or specialist services, so our aim is always to support the student to access the services they need, which is usually through their university in the first instance. We work with both our university partners and local services to create pathways between our support services and theirs, through both formal and informal partnerships. This allows us to offer students a full array of options and empower them to make an informed decision about where they want to seek assistance. Our relationships with university partners’ welfare services are maintained on an ongoing basis to smooth the path for referrals.

To frame mental health exclusively in terms of crisis, however, is to ignore a key tenet of our student mental health approach: ‘mental health’ doesn’t just mean mental ill health. As such, our support services also seek to help students in maintaining mental good health. For example, if a student mentions to one of our staff that they are struggling academically or have had a change in circumstances that affects their finances, this is something that could be raised through our ongoing partnership with the student’s university in order to help that student succeed – a holistic approach that takes into account the many facets of student life that can help or hinder students.

Our in-house service complements the services offered by our university partners, as it should do; a joined-up approach is essential in supporting student success. Working together allows us all to offer a more robust support system to students, helping them to access the support they need to help them flourish – which, in return, benefits all universities and accommodation providers.

Read more about University Mental Health Day here.