The mental health imperative

When I was a student in the 1970s, almost nobody ever mentioned mental health. And yet, I knew several students with anxiety and depression, who often found it difficult to share their problems with anyone, and who had pretty much no support they could call upon within the system. At least one of them was unable to complete their course, and struggled with these problems for many years subsequently.

Now, in 2018, the problem is at least increasingly recognised, though whether we are close to providing mental health and wellbeing care and support for all those in higher education is another matter. What is clear is that the pressures on students are increasingly intense and many find it difficult to cope. Staff on the other hand need what the charity Student Minds calls ‘mental health literacy’.

NUS Scotland has recently adopted a Charter for Student Rights on Mental Health. This sets out ten basic rights for students based on clearly identified need. Some of the problems identified by the NUS included the impact of internet trolling, inadequate availability of counselling, special problems encountered by LGBT students, and growing suicide numbers.

The NUS initiative is to be welcomed, and individual universities and colleges all need to prioritise mental wellbeing also. My own institution, Robert Gordon University, recently concluded a Student Mental Health Agreement with our Students’ Union, which will, I hope, provide an effective framework for support where it is needed. There is still much to be done.

The most important thing is not to ignore mental health and wellbeing, and not to let any members of the university community feel they have nowhere to go and nobody to support them. This is where we have to start.

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3 Comments on “The mental health imperative”

  1. Great post.

  2. paulmartin42 Says:

    The start of a letter from Saturday’s Times: “Sir, Plans to allow parents to be informed if their children are suffering a mental health crisis at university are welcome and timely”.

    It is not the case that there is “….nobody to support them ..”, most students have loving parents who are excluded by Universities when contacted by them with concerns. The academic party line though, over the phone, is that they are adults and Data Protection means “we” are unable to share any information. These days, with the benefit of IT, it is quite apparent & easily discovered whether an individual student is not submitting course work and in FE not attending class. The first time Mum & Dad (or guardian) really discover a problem is year end when the student fails and retakes etc are mentioned. By then higher ups are involved and bigger stakes too.

    Blame can also be laid with students. The abused Aberdeen young lady who recently committed suicide had shared by text with her friends, according to the Guardian, and one had exhorted her to go to the Police. Where was the intermediate opportunity & mechanism to pass on concerns.

  3. Vince Says:

    In my final year my then girlfriend was put on SSRI’s and went from mildly depressed to something very different.
    It is insufficient for the institution to deal only with the person, for like with alcohol the people involved surround the prime person and, the illness profoundly impinges on them too. At that time and for years after I felt I was fighting a war where no one could speak to me to aid me in dealing with the illness. It would have been very handy to hear someone say this is how you deal with the swings from murderous rages to attempting to suicide and delivering the person you care for to A&E and watching her drink pints of suspended charcoal or having her wrists bandaged.
    So to my mind if you were going to do something about illness of this sort within the uni’s having seminars for the 3rd parties. It would have a series of advantages not least that someone in difficulties might hear some of their symptoms described and get help. You see I think by the time it gets to where you in the administration notices an issue it has become a matter for medical professionals.

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