Teach us how to look after our mental health, say university students

Teach us how to look after our mental health, say university students

Students want universities to teach them how to look after their mental health and wellbeing as anxiety and stress levels surge on UK campuses, according to a survey.

Ninety-six per cent of the 1,500 students polled by emotional fitness app Fika think universities should offer “emotional education” on the curriculum to improve their resilience against mental health problems. This would replicate the Department for Education’s plans to roll out wellbeing modules in schools from September 2020.

The modules could help combat the “alarmingly high” levels of anxiety, loneliness, substance misuse and thoughts of self-harm on UK campuses, which were revealed earlier this year by a separate study of almost 38,000 UK students.

Recent research has shed light on the extent to which universities are struggling to cope with the scale of demand for mental health support services. According to universities’ own data, students with mental health problems are having to wait up to 12 weeks for counselling and support – longer than a standard university term. Despite growing demand, the data showed that one in four universities have cut or frozen budgets for student mental health.

More than a third (35%) of the students surveyed complained that waiting lists for counselling and mental health support were too long. More than a fifth (22%) said universities only offered support when mental health became a problem, rather than preemptively looking to build resilience among students.

With pressure on students to secure a good degree mounting, nearly a third (28%) said academic work had damaged their personal relationships and left them feeling isolated.

Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said the mental health crisis is a direct result of how universities are run. “The pressure within the academic system to demonstrate quantifiable results, rather than turning out well-rounded, properly equipped graduates, is creating an anxious, ill-equipped and emotionally fragile generation of workers,” he said.

Several universities already offer wellbeing courses as part of the curriculum, including the University of Bristol through its science of happiness courses and the University of Oxford, through its mindfulness centre.

Willem Kuyken, a professor and director at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, said that universities need to address the mental health crisis at its roots.

“The higher education sector has a duty to redesign its offering to bring emotional and social education to its heart, making these as foundational to the university experience as academic education,” he said.

Eva Crossan Jory, the vice-president for welfare of the National Union of Students, said that while wellbeing education could be positive for some students, it isn’t a substitute for tackling the underlying causes of stress, anxiety and depression.

“Poor student mental health is rooted in the material conditions that students are expected to deal with as they study, including financial support which is not fit for purpose and spiralling housing costs,” she said.

“However many wellbeing initiatives providers invest in, we can only ever scrape the surface of the problem if we’re unwilling as a sector to look at the root cause of the problem: funding and regulating an education system itself which reproduces and exacerbates social inequality.”

Guardian

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