On Wednesday the 30th of January, I had the absolute privilege of being invited down to parliament by the University All-Party Parliamentary Group, to join their panel for a meeting regarding 'student mental health and wellbeing'.
As one of the keynote speakers, one of the main points I wanted to channel throughout the meeting was the fact that student mental health is multifaceted. Because of this, it will require change and efforts to come from all avenues of student mental health and wellbeing, rather than just the few who are passionate about the topic. But also that the students’ voice needed to be an integral part of any decisions made.
As it stands, 1 in 4 of all adults in the UK are at risk of developing mental health issues, 75% of which onset before the age of 24. All of this means Universities have become the centre of discussion when it comes to young adult mental health and wellbeing.
In fact, in the last year the UK has seen over 57,000 students disclose a mental health condition, with 77% reporting that they have a fear of failure. As well as fear of failure, universities have seen over 63% of students report that they feel an overwhelming amount of stress to perform. This is one of the reasons why it is no surprise that in the last five years, 94% of universities have experienced a sharp increase in the number of people trying to access support services.
Whilst we must acknowledge that there is still more that can and needs to be done to crack down on the increasing issue that is student mental health and wellbeing, we must also take time to praise the huge strides that have been taken to improve the current situation. Over the past five years, we have seen greater cross-party support for making mental health a priority and addressing the particular needs of students. We saw just last year that the former Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, supported the University Mental Health Charter which is being developed by Student Minds in partnership with the UPP Foundation, the Office for Students (OfS), the NUS and Universities UK (UUK). And earlier this month, the NHS released their 10-year plan which detailed arrangements to address mental health problems among young people.
The truth is, students today are faced with unique concerns compared to students in the past. This includes the stress of unprecedented financial burden from student loans and increased tuition fees, and the potentially negative consequences on wellbeing of the use of digital technologies and social media.
The biggest lesson we should take from the meeting was that we need to start looking at universities as the place where young people can learn how to train their minds, not just academically, but emotionally too. We need to start thinking about universities as places that young people can use as training grounds for their minds, and learn how to become mentally fit.
Meetings such as this, organised by the university APPG, are exactly what we need to reform the situation and to make sure that all students and staff can feel safe, cared about and “fit to work”. I left the meeting feeling hopeful that the right steps would now be taken to turn just another conversation about mental health into practical steps to create that change and bring together schools, colleges and universities to make progress in relation to young people’s mental health.
Overall, the discussion did not fall short at all and ultimately came to a great review of mental health issues from a university, student and NHS perspective, as well as from MP's and Ministers. I am excited to see the matters discussed on Wednesday be raised with the government in the following weeks.