Today's report from the Care Quality Commission laid bare how difficult it can be for young people to access mental health support services. Being a student can be tough at the best of times, but when you’re a student with mental health issues you can face even greater challenges.

Reports recently in the media show that more and more students are disclosing mental health problems, ranging from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and OCD. (1)

At a time when greater independence can be a blessing to students leaving home for the first time, it can sometimes prove too great a hurdle for students managing these struggles as they change support systems and provision as well.

As a student support team leader for Arden University (@Arden_Uni) I have frequent conversations with students needing support with the way their mental health affects them and their ability to cope with the demands of their course. Common issues for students with mental health conditions can be organisation, study skills and practicalities such as access but overwhelmingly, it is the increasing need for time and space to explore their own unique context, the demands on them and how that fits with their studies.

Professor Steve West, Chair of Universities UK Mental Health in Higher Education Working Group recently called for Higher Education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic imperative. (2)

Telephone counselling for students

At Arden University, we are the first Higher Education Institution in the country to partner with StudentLine, a 24-hour free and confidential helpline for students at our University, where they can receive medical advice and counselling from trained and accredited professionals over the telephone.

This level of immediate access to support has been warmly welcomed by our students.

In traditional settings with an on-campus counselling service, there can be a very long wait for support.

Universities are going to need to increase their provision more and more to help students at their point of need, not 3-6 months down the line when there is a space available.

Extra funding and support

Students eligible for Student Finance with a mental health condition can apply for extra support and resources through the Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA).

We find that students can be reluctant to declare their mental health status as a disability but it is defined as such in law. (3)

DSA can play a huge part in helping students manage their condition and equip them for the study with provision of learning mentors and exam support workers providing a key source of support.

Universities need to be prepared to explore this with students and help them receive their entitlements at the point of application but also at all points through the course.

Creating comfortable relationships

We find that forming relationships with our students is key to making them feel comfortable in asking for help.

For our online distance students that presents more of a challenge, but warm, friendly and approachable student support teams, face to face and by email or telephone, go a long way to making this happen.

Sometimes students worry we might be a combination of a scary teacher and a doctor’s receptionist, but when they realise we are invested in helping them achieve their potential no matter what, it can break down the barriers. We find many students disclose their struggles to us often for the first time and it is important that universities provide both practical and emotional support.

Mental health conditions don’t have to be a barrier to success. With the right support students can achieve their potential and in Student Support, I see this time and time again.

Sometimes the path can look a little different for these students, being flexible with timetables, assessment types, deadlines and study load can all help as can making available high quality and accessible support for when things are hard. We would all expect universities to accommodate students with physical needs such as mobility or sensory issues, it is time that mental health needs were given the same parity of access to support and help.

You are not alone

For students – try to have the conversation. Find someone you trust, maybe write it down if it is too hard to say the words or take someone with you to advocate for you. There is always something that can be done to support you, you do not have to be alone.

Everyone at the university you attend wants you to be the very best you can be, with the help that you need.

References

About the author

Siân Duffin is a Student Support Team Leader at Arden University with qualifications in Psychology and counselling and a background as a Secondary School Teacher in Social Sciences and SEN. She works with students from across the UK and internationally from enrolment to graduation with every aspect of their learning journey. 

Arden University is a Higher Education Institution with Head Office in Coventry and campuses in London, Birmingham and Manchester. As a provider, they are experts in offering alternative provision, both fully online distance learning courses and blended learning, a mixture of online learning and face to face classroom sessions.

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