The first University Mental Health Day was piloted by UMHAN in 2008. From what we remember there were a few events held at a select few universities - all put on by UMHAN members. The original premise was to hold events to raise the visibility of mental health on campus, and so help to break down stigma.
Since then, the event has grown and grown. We have always worked closely with Student Minds, and since 2012 we have run the day together. Their influence has helped promote the participation of Student Unions and students.
It's great to see that events are often now run by whole student support or academic departments. External service providers, such as student accommodation, local NHS services and private companies have now started taking part too. There are a wide range of events - from coffee and chat to film festivals.
We love the fact that student mental health is now much higher on everyone's agenda. But we'd like to use this day to reflect on the work that still needs to be done:
- Support for students with long term mental health conditions is still inconsistent, and it is important that we continue to make every effort to make our educational establishments as inclusive as possible. Wellbeing initiatives, such as informal social events or mindfulness are not always successful in either targeting this group, or having an impact on their experiences. Through our members we know that inflexible assessment practices and burdensome administration continue to have a negative impact on these students. It is vital that we continue to listen to them and ensure student feedback is representative of this cohort.
- The role of Mental Health Advisers is not fully understood by senior management - these staff members are highly skilled professionals, who, due to their training and experience in statutory services contain a huge amount of "risk" to enable students to study safely. Many students with mental ill health no longer meet the threshold for statutory services provision and therefore the need for professionals to be employed by Universities continues.
- Multidisciplinary teams, e.g. made up of mental health professionals, counsellors, disability services, mentors and external services, can be highly effective in ensuring students' needs are met and Universities' duties are discharged; however, there are often some basic communication issues which need improvement such as information sharing protocols.
- 1:1 support for these students is at threat due to a proposed review of Disabled Students' Allowances. Specialist Mental Health Mentoring provides regular contact with a professional, in a format which is highly effective and tailored to an individual's circumstances and need.
- The mental health practitioners that make up our membership have told us that they often struggle to stay mentally healthy themselves. We know that good, professional supervision and support from managers is helpful - this needs to be more consistently provided.
- We know that academics and other university staff are also reporting back to their representative bodies that they too need better mental health support.
At UMHAN we are passionate about sharing best practice, and the skills and experience of our members - please get in touch if you'd like to know more!