This week I am announcing ‘Mental Wealth First’: UWE Bristol’s Commitment to put Mental Health and Wellbeing first, for both students and staff. This means adopting the whole university approach of the Universities UK Step Change Framework to ensure we have the right support, systems, training and partnerships in place for optimum mental health and wellbeing. Wellbeing is the key addition here, as we want to create a healthy, productive environment where everyone has what they need to thrive and grow.
What triggered this work was firstly a realisation that, as universities, we have a group of individuals, 18-24 year olds who are going through massive transitions –from home to university and then onto employment. A cohort vulnerable to a range of mental ill-health issues, from anxiety and depression to loneliness, stress about exams, peer pressure or identity issues. The second thing is that data shows that all of us have a continuum of mental health where one in four will experience mental ill-health at some point during our lives.
We are already seeing increasing demands on the NHS in this area. And the demands within universities will continue to increase with people accessing services when they are in crisis with mental ill-health if we don’t rethink our approach. In fact, universities have been reporting a threefold increase in the demand for counselling services since 2007.
Universities should be proud of the work they are already doing to support young people with their mental health and wellbeing needs.
At UWE Bristol, we offer a range of services to support students in ways that suit them individually. For example, the Wellbeing service offers an initial 90 minute Therapeutic Consultation for students seeking support, as well as a daily drop-in service. We have also this term introduced an online platform called Kooth Student, which provides online out of hours access to professional online counsellors, live moderated forums and self-help materials and allows students to seek help anonymously.
We also focus on the transition periods where we know anxiety is often at its greatest for students, such as joining the university, and low times like returning after Christmas and assessment times. Students are encouraged and facilitated to make friends, look after each other, get involved, made aware of the support available and, in the case of our Feelgood February, persuaded to be active.
Throughout the student journey, the University, partnering with the Student Union has run a number of workshops for staff and students. The main aim of the student workshops has been to empower students, improving their emotional resilience, self-belief and esteem and confidence. From the New Year, the SU will operate a new service called Nightline, a phone-based student- to-student support service.
However, we know there is more to be done to address this growing issue. We are one of three universities nationally (alongside Cardiff and York) that will be piloting the Universities UK Step Change Framework. This means auditing our current activity across the university, including our leadership, the data we use, what we provide for staff, our initiatives around prevention and early intervention, how we arrange support particularly around key transition periods and our partnerships.
We will be consulting with staff, students and partners, including Universities UK and leading student mental health charity, Students Minds UK, to identify what works, where there are gaps and what people need in the future. We will then develop our Strategy and five-year Action Plan to begin to implement this new whole university approach.
Our work will be used to help shape the future approach to mental health and wellbeing in universities across the country.
This is not a short term fix but a long term cultural change that we believe will help us create the best environment for people to thrive, getting the most out of their time at university and preparing them for later life.
Find out more about our Mental Wealth First commitment here: http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/about/mentalwealthfirst.aspx