26th April 2017 by Richard Brabner
The UPP Foundation has launched a student mental health guidance pack aimed at university teams and providers of university accommodation, in collaboration with student mental health charity Student Minds.
The guidance pack – entitled “Student Living: Collaborating to Support Student Mental Health in University Accommodation” – concludes the joint pilot project, an initiative focused on training front-line staff at Nottingham Trent University in supporting student mental health. The guidance pack uses the evidence from this project and case studies to provide the HE sector with a series of recommendations on how to support mental health, particularly those living in purpose built student accommodation.
Taking into account the role and opportunities of accommodation providers and their employees, the cross-sector report offers a new model in ensuring that these voices are heard and considered. It uniquely focuses on how partnerships and auditing between universities, accommodation services and third sector organisations can support early intervention for students experiencing mental health difficulties.
In a first for the higher education sector, this new guidance will help to inform UPP and the sector’s approach to student mental health where student’s live.
Recognising that it can often be accommodation staff – a cleaner, the night porter or security staff that pick up on issues – training was delivered to UPP accommodation staff to enable them to spot the signs of mental health issues and engage in supportive conversations to help students access the support they need. If the HE sector is truly going to deliver a strategic, whole-university approach to mental health in our institutions, the approach must involve accommodation professionals, and accommodation providers will need to be proactive to engage with student services at their local institutions
The report makes a series of recommendations with three overriding themes running throughout: the need for collaboration and auditing across sectors; to improve the level of understanding about mental health across the whole university community including accommodation teams; and to embed a sustainable and resourced strategic approach.
For university students, the uniqueness of living in an environment where hundreds of young people live in the same place for the first time can constitute a major life transition and present difficulties for a student’s mental health. Many issues can present themselves at this time of transition including: homesickness, living with strangers and making friends, problems with the integration between home and university care, drugs and alcohol, security and safety, and managing the lack of a pastoral support system.
One of the key UPP Foundation goals is increasing student retention and helping to erode the barriers many students face to remaining in higher education. Student mental health is an extremely important issue and the UPP Foundation recognises the unique difficulties that can arise for students with mental health issues whilst studying at university.
From a university perspective, it remains vital to adapt a strategic approach to wellbeing and invest in mental health. Cultivating environments and communities that are supportive of mental health, whilst providing timely access to support services, is the most effective approach to reducing mental health difficulties in our society.
Richard Brabner is the Director of UPP Foundation