Blog post

Why universities should support the wellbeing of staff and students

To mark University Mental Health Day (March 1), Victoria Sweetmore, Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Derby, discusses the importance of promoting the mental wellbeing of people who work and study in Higher Education.

By Victoria Sweetmore - 26 February 2018

What is University Mental Health Day?

University Mental Health Day is a national campaign to focus efforts on promoting the mental health of people who live, work and study in Higher Education settings. It is an awareness day run jointly by Student Minds and UMHAN and encourages students and staff across the UK to run events and campaigns to promote awareness and support for students at universities to manage their wellbeing.

This year’s event takes place on Thursday, March 1 and the theme this year is ‘community’.

Whether you’re a student, a member of support staff, an academic, or a senior university leader, we all have a part to play to promote a positive mental health community at university. The campaign aims to empower all members of the university community to be active in supporting student mental health.

Whether you’re a student, a member of support staff, an academic, or a senior university leader, we all have a part to play to promote a positive mental health community at university. The campaign aims to empower all members of the university community to be active in supporting student mental health.

Student mental health in the headlines

The mental health of students at universities and the support they receive from staff has been a particular focus in the news recently.

To understand more about how academics are managing student mental health, charity Student Minds, along with researchers from the University of Derby and Kings College London, interviewed 52 academics at five universities.

The research revealed large numbers of students experiencing mental health difficulties. A number of the academics interviewed described experiences of student mental illness that carried high levels of risk and distress. Academics who had worked in the role for many years stressed that they were seeing an increase in the prevalence of mental health difficulties.

Supporting wellbeing in staff and students

If not supported in their wellbeing, people will be prevented from reaching their full potential. This comes potentially at great personal cost, in terms of stress and uncertainly, as well as a cost to the person’s workplace, for example. This could be in financial terms, while no individual is irreplaceable, to replace people does take time and money, but also in terms of knowledge, diversity and reputation. How will processes like creation, innovation and discovery take place without embracing the full spectrum of human experience and without sharing a full range of normal and relatable emotions?

If an organisation wants individuals to be successful, then facilitating emotional wellbeing as much as possible is essential. The links between improved mental wellbeing and increased academic success are well documented. Research tells us consistently that people who feel better, perform better. Student life can be incredibly tough, many of the ‘risk factors’ that form the foundation of a mental health assessment are an accepted fact of student life – financial uncertainly, stressful events (exams, coursework), potential rootlessness (leaving home and family) and social isolation (again, leaving family and friends), for example.  Given all this, it is not surprising that around one in four students suffers from mental health problems nationally.

It is not just students that universities need to focus on in terms of wellbeing though.  Anyone can suffer from difficulties with their mental health, at any time in their life.  Approximately one quarter of the population will experience a mental health problem each year. These experiences are part of what makes us who we are: people with a diverse range of experiences, understanding, insight and empathy; people with qualities such as inner strength, resourcefulness and innovation.  Characteristics any employer should be looking for and which we should not be reluctant to share and use.

By ensuring that the wellbeing needs of staff and students alike are acknowledged and catered for, universities can ensure they remain centres of creative and innovative excellence with an engaged and high-performing student and staff population.

How is University Mental Health Day relevant to me?

This University Mental Health Day, take some time out to think about your own experiences and wellbeing right now. Are there any areas of your life that need adjustment? Have you got your priorities in the right order? Maybe make a list of things you enjoy doing and take some time out to do something off the list.  If everything is balanced and lovely, great!  Maybe look around you and see how things are going for your colleagues, friends and family and check whether anyone you know is struggling.

If things are feeling too much, or you’re not sure how to start to change the things you’ve identified, maybe it’s time to ask for more support, and asking for support is also great. Check out the student support or staff wellbeing pages on your organisation’s intranet or seek support from the available wellbeing teams.

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About the author

Victoria Sweetmore
Acting Discipline Lead Mental Health and Learning Disability Nursing

Victoria has been a Lecturer at the University of Derby since the beginning of 2018 and is based at St Helena in Chesterfield. She teaches on the pre-registration, undergraduate Mental Health Nursing programme

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