How do you deal with an invisible problem?
Students' awareness of their own mental health and the importance of looking after it has been increasing steadily over the last few years.
Talking to students today, it feels like many are comfortable to talk openly about their mental health and reference the factors that both positively and negatively affect it.
And with the rise in demand for Support & Wellbeing services at university, it's both positive that many students feel comfortable accessing help, but worrying that so many feel the need to.
However, there still exists a silent majority of students who are experiencing mental wellbeing issues but not reaching out for support from the university. In Unite's 'The New Realists' insight report, only half (53%) of students with a mental health condition have disclosed their condition to their university.
The majority of students who identified as having a mental health condition described how 'It's something I need to deal with myself.'
Of further worry is the fact that only 23% of this group 'trusted their university to provide them with the right level of support.'
Now we know that the vast majority of Support & Wellbeing Services at campuses across the UK are fantastic, with incredible, caring staff that work hard to make a difference.
So why isn't this message getting through to those who need it most?
From our experience and research into the issue, we've found it frequently comes down to poor communication:
Issue #1: It's unclear exactly what Support Services can help with
We know from our insight work with international students that they are often most likely to experience wellbeing issues and require support relating to homesickness, culture shock, language difficulties etc.
During one recent focus group, we found that students were confused as to what exactly Support services could help them with, with one student saying:
"Their poster says I can see them about any problem, but this is too vague. If I have a problem with writing an essay can I see them? What if I just feel generally down?"
Solution #1: Support & Wellbeing Services need to articulate exactly what they can and can't help with
Give examples or anonymous case studies that students can relate to. Raise awareness of other services (like Financial or Academic support) that can help with other issues.
Issue #2: Students don't know where to access Support Services
While it may be appropriate to place Support & Wellbeing Services away from busy student thoroughfares on campus, it can often decrease the likelihood of students finding them.
Solution #2: Make sure all students know where they are
Making the campus easy to navigate for all students is a recommendation from Student Minds' Mental Health Charter and is so important in encouraging students to access support.
Our Walking Route videos have helped universities like Sheffield Hallam, Glasgow, Coventry and Manchester signpost their students around campus in a really cost effective way. Get in touch if you'd like to know more about them.
Issue #3: Content on Support Services webpages needs to be improved
Support Services websites are likely to be one of the first places that students visit to find more information about the support on offer, and may be in an anxious or distressed state at the time.
Ensuring information is presented clearly and in a reassuring and friendly way is hugely important.
Solution #3: Understand exactly what students want to know from your Support Services webpage
We've found through our Watch Me Think service (where we analyse how students use a website and capture their thoughts on using it) that students often miss key pieces of content and whole sections of websites. It's worth ensuring that the content you've got online is what students are looking for.
Finally, it's so important to listen to your students to find out what they really want from their Support & Wellbeing Service. We regularly run focus groups for our clients where we can act as a neutral third party, allowing students to talk openly and honestly about what they want from their university.
We're passionate about improving the mental health of students in the UK and would love to see if we can help you. Let's work together to give a voice to this silent majority.