Mental health and wellbeing experts from some of the country's leading universities have shared their insights and experiences of supporting students suffering from the illness. Addressing a packed audience of 80 attendees from major universities and colleges at a workshop organised by Randstad Student Support, speakers from across the country agreed short term intervention was proving most effective for their institutions.

One in four people will experience some form of mental health condition this year with mixed anxiety and depression the most likely causes. In its report earlier this year, the Association of Colleges found the average college has 185 students with disclosed mental health conditions and that 85% of institutions had seen an increase in students with mental health issues in the last three years. 

Most of the respondents (95%) said home circumstances were having an impact on students' mental health while pressure on social media (875) and drug and alcohol problems (63%) were also contributing factors.

mental health support.

Describing steps taken by Goldsmiths University, Barry Hayward, the inclusion and learning support manager at the institution, said staff were focused on helping students to become more independent.

“Up until a couple of years ago mental health support was provided through disability support or counselling and that was about it really," he said. "We managed to get funding for a mental health specialist in 2013 and from there went on to draft key principles for what we wanted to do and how we wanted to differentiate from the NHS.

“We wanted to build up the independence of the students and focus on the successes. Long term support can be counterproductive. One of the things we did was organise events that brought students together and just meeting each other was quite powerful.”

mental health drop-in centres.

Wellbeing manager Lucy Antich admitted she thought there could be students putting pressure on resources by going to them “worrying about their favourite soap opera” but she was pleased to report there had been no “time wasters” since a 2015 restructure. Goldsmiths’ wellbeing team currently sees six students a day and about 500 a year.

“The first thing we did was introduce a wellbeing drop-in centre for students experiencing mental health symptoms,” Antich said. “Each drop in has three students who see a member of the team for about 15-20 minutes. If they need more support, we follow up: there is always someone on hand. We are championing independence and self care and helping the students see they have the resource at their fingertips. As a result our list for counselling has hugely reduced. On the switch to short term care, she added: “I have never seen anything like it.”

how do we equip students to do well?

Adele Frost, wellbeing manager at London’s King’s College, credited the institution's approach to director of sport, health and wellbeing, Andy Allford. She said that Andy’s background in sport - he coached Great Britain badminton team for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics - led them to mission statement: “How do we equip students to do well?” and overall goal as assisting students to be “happy and healthy.”

With Andy at the helm, the wellbeing team adopted a new approach based on something he was familiar with: coaching. Using a solution based approach that appeals to all students, Adele explained how coaching involved a one-on-one meeting with students to identify goals. The programme is purposefully non-prescriptive with support workers leaving it to the students to make decisions. 

“One of the key things we wanted to do was employ a coaching philosophy because coaching focuses on positive outcomes and promotes resourcefulness,” she added.

go from feeling fine to feeling amazing.

Coaching is not only available to those in desperate need of support. Adele said King’s coaching strategy was also open to those who weren’t suffering from mental health issues and who simply wanted to improve themselves and, in her words, “go from feeling fine to feeling amazing.” This approach might explain why wellbeing events staged by King’s have included workshops and seen more than 1,600 attendees so far this year. 

Away from the capital, at UWE-Bristol, Diane Zimmer is head of wellbeing. She told the audience how students at the university were revealed as the most likely to take illegal drugs and as a result her team often sees students with drug and alcohol problems.

The team’s approach, she said, might appear “more traditional” compared to some of the other approaches the audience has heard. UWE-Bristol focuses on counselling, mental health and personal development needs and - repeating words that was often used during the workshop - “focuses on building individual resilience.” 

I marvel at wellbeing services.

The university has a self-assessment form to capture data and nominate what services might be best for them. As well as one-on-one meetings there is also the option of online self help guides. She acknowledged there were challenges and recalled some of the unpleasant cases she had seen, but summing up what everyone in the room already knew, Diane said: “Sometimes I marvel at wellbeing services because we are cheerful people who deal with serious things.”  

If you would like to learn more about how you can support your students with the right level of support to enable them to reach their full potential, get in touch with Randstad Student Support today.