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How universities can support mental health this World Mental Health Day

10 October 2018
Simon Blake

Simon Blake

Chief Executive
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England


Student mental health has a higher profile than ever before. For this year's World Mental Health Day (10th Oct) we are asked to think about young people's mental health in our ever-changing world. 

This theme couldn't be more apt for universities, as all students whether part time, full time, living away from home or moving to a new home are going through a major time of transition and change, and will be faced with exciting opportunities, and challenges - such as facing new academic and financial pressures and building new friendships and support networks.

Undoubtedly, these factors can impact a student's mental health at any point throughout their university experience. In fact, according to recent research by the Institute for Public Policy Research, in England, 19 per cent of 16-24-year-olds experience a mental health issue, up from 15 per cent in 2003. 

More and more student leaders and students' unions are making mental health a priority, and increasingly we hope that both institutions and students' unions will work strategically with specialist partners to establish a 'whole university approach' to mental health. Within this holistic approach, training must be one core component. 

We know that the average age of higher education students overlaps with the peak age of onset for mental health difficulties. But it's important to remember that mental health issues are an equally pressing issue for university staff. 66 per cent of academics with mental health issues say their ill health is directly related to their work.

There is excellent guidance for universities in the Universities UK #stepchange report. This report sets out a compelling vision for creating a mentally healthy university. The forthcoming University Mental Health Charter will also help shine a light on best-practice. With growing information at the sector's fingertips, it is time all of our higher education institutions take action to improve their approach to mental health and build communities where staff and students can thrive.

To mark World Mental Health Day, MHFA England has created #HandsUp4HealthyMinds – a toolkit to help universities support students' mental health. This free set of resources is packed with infographics, gifs, videos, supports cards and even a quiz, with key information on youth mental health and practical tips on how to start a conversation. It also includes guidance for students on how to understand and manage stress and practice positive self-care. 

MHFA England has worked with Student Minds to develop Higher Education Mental Health First Aid – an evidence-based course designed to support a 'whole organisation' approach to mental health in universities. A number of universities such as Birmingham City University, King's College London, the University of SunderlandImperial College London and the University of York have implemented MHFA training as part of a holistic approach to addressing mental health as set out in 'Stepchange'. By introducing MHFA training, these institutions are working proactively to eliminate stigma and build cultures where staff and students feel able to talk about their mental health and access support as they need it. 

We will all agree that universities are in a powerful position to promote and support staff and students' mental health and to improve outcomes for a generation of young adults. So, as we mark World Mental Health Day, I urge every university to prioritise mental health for their staff and students; to be bold and brave and demonstrate the leadership required to support their community's mental health. 

We look forward to working further with Student Minds and Universities UK on this important journey. 


Download the #HandsUp4HealthyMinds toolkit and find out more about Higher Education MHFA training at: mhfaengland.org/organisations/higher-education


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Robert O'Hara
Robert O'Hara says:
11 October 2018 at 20:48

I read this article with interest after seeing John de Pury on BBC news about mental health in youngsters and in college / university students. I'd like to run an idea past yourselves on a book I published about stress and anxiety. I myself have had over a decade of mental health issues which came through a trauma which lead me to writing a book to allow people to walk away from issues using a unique technic. I think that this could be made into a handout which will each person to draw up a unique picture of there issues and walk away from them. I think it will also help the NHS. Would someone please talk to me to see if this idea would be usuefull. I am also now developing new ideas from having CBT that hints at 7 principles to review issues in life. I hope you do get back ad I really think it will help lots of people. Ps I'm not looking for money just to help others. Regards Robert O'Hara


Eoghan McHugh
Eoghan McHugh says:
16 October 2018 at 17:55

Great piece as a part of the conversation around mental health, issue awareness and creating an environment of support!

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