With suicide being the biggest killer of under 35s in the UK and following a series of high-profile student suicides during the pandemic, the mental health charity HUMEN reveals that many university students have inadequate access to essential mental health services in the UK’s first ever University Mental Health League Table. Last week the UK government announced £3m in funding for student university mental health services, however HUMEN is critical of the measures for being only 1% of the figure needed to fully address the issue.
Strengthening the existing university league tables, HUMEN, in partnership with Advance Pro Bono and GrapeData, has produced the first ever comprehensive University Mental Health League Table, covering every university across the UK with 10,000 students or more. While universities accumulate an annual income of nearly £2 billion, and students pay tuition fees over £9,000 per year, HUMEN’s new league table reveals a troubling lack of mental health support for students in UK universities.
Several universities are providing effective mental health care for their students, including the University of Reading (1st) which tops the table, however respected universities such as the University of Birmingham (80th), the University of Newcastle (76th) and the University of Nottingham (73rd) are ranked in the bottom ten out of eighty universities despite reputation for excellence.
HUMEN’s research reveals only 4% of staff have received adequate training through Mental Health First Aid England’s course, which is funded by the government and recommended by the charity. HUMEN advocates for all university staff with a pastoral or welfare role to enrol in Mental Health First Aid England’s (MHFE) training course. MHFE is a government endorsed and funded organisation, and by enrolling staff, universities will improve and help standardise mental health support for students across the UK.
HUMEN’s University Mental Health League Table scores universities on five key criteria to give a score out of 100, covering student satisfaction with mental health services, student engagement, awareness and access to mental health programmes, university mental health budgets and staff training (NB HUMEN scores are asterisked).
HUMEN’s research reveals that many universities are allocating measly mental health budgets, and the government’s intervention of £3M is unlikely to address the issue when there are 2.66M students in higher education, which equates to slightly over £1 per student.
UNIVERSITIES PROVIDING EFFECTIVE SUPPORT
In first place, the University of Reading achieved an overall rating of 63* out of 100,based on HUMEN’s league metrics. In second place was the University of Oxford (60*), followed by the University of Central Lancashire (60*), the University of York (59*) and Canterbury Christ Church University (58*), making up the top 5.
Students at the University of Central Lancashire (3rd) are the most satisfied with the mental health support available to them (79%). And 56% of students surveyed thought that their university helps to prevent mental health issues arising thanks to the services provided or signposted.
Investing in mental health support is key and the University of Reading and the University of Brighton have the largest budgets in proportion of university income £70 per student). The University of Cambridge, which comes third in the table overall, allocates £56 per student for its mental health budget. While these figures appear low, it should be considered that not all students will rely on mental health services.
It is paramount that university staff are equipped to support students with mental health difficulties. The University of Essex has the highest percentage of staff trained in Mental Health First Aid (19%), however comparatively, the highly-respected University of Newcastle, the University of Birmingham and Lancaster University have no trained staff at all, or have not taken a course HUMEN considered credible, or simply chose not to respond to the freedom of information request.
UNIVERSITIES REQUIRING URGENT ATTENTION
Statistics gathered from the research and student surveys make for bleak reading and show an obvious gulf between students’ needs for university mental health services versus the provision and training currently in place. Nearly half (47%) of students believe that mental health difficulties during their time in higher education had a negative impact on their university experience.
Eighty universities were approached and those which didn’t respond to HUMEN’s Freedom of Information request were negatively marked. Overall, the results highlight that many universities are simply not providing students with adequate support when they need it, with the University of Birmingham (0*), the University of Nottingham (15*) and the University of Leeds (17*) receiving some of the lowest scores in the UK for service provision. Some universities did not respond to HUMEN’s freedom of information request and the charity urges these institutions to share mental health data in order to for greater transparency, for the opportunity
Students at Staffordshire University are waiting nearly three-months to see a trained health professional. And unsurprisingly due to its league position, 38% of students at the University of Birmingham (80th) disagreed when asked if they were satisfied with the range of mental health support available at the university.
The redbrick University of Nottingham ranked 73rd place due to its low mental health budget and poor provision of services. And the University of Wolverhampton, which has over 20,000 students, had the smallest mental health budget (£3 per student) at the time of research than any other university in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
While 14% of staff across the universities appear to receive some online mental health and wellbeing training, HUMEN is concerned about the quality and focus on these courses, which may cover other areas such as nutrition. Standardised mental health training, through the Mental Health First Aid course is essential, and will enable HUMEN and other mental health experts to ensure that staff are adequately equipped to spot and deal with arising problems.
STUDENT USE OF MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
Research shows that while 57% of students have used mental health services provided by their university (including counselling services, helplines, self-help resources and wellbeing groups), the results show a lingering stigma around men and mental illnesses.
According to the data, 73% of men tried to access university services when struggling with their mental health. However, only 19% of male students were diagnosed by a medical professional to have a mental health condition. It appears a mental health diagnosis is more common among women (31%) and those who identify as non-binary (60%).
While HUMEN encourages universities to provide mental health support for all its student population, with 75% of suicides being men and this fatality being the biggest killer of men under 45, it’s essential that men’s mental health is taken seriously.
Following the announcement of the University Mental Health League Table, HUMEN encourages universities ranking further down the league table, or those who want to learn how to improve their score, to engage with the charity. One of the ways universities can improve their mental health provision is to contact HUMEN for support, resources, advice, and ways to roll out the HUMEN Space in university towns. The HUMEN Space is an anonymous and non-clinical safe space for men to talk, listen and connect on a regular basis across the UK.
A spokesperson for the University of Birmingham said:
“We take our responsibility to students very seriously and provide a comprehensive range of wellbeing and support services. We invest more than £2m annually on staff and partner services who directly support students with their mental health and wellbeing. We do not recognise the data in this league table or how it was derived and believe it is at best misleading. It does not reflect the significant investment the University has made or service enhancements seen in recent years.
“The University regularly seeks feedback from students on service quality and priorities including, this year, our first annual wellbeing survey which asked students to rate their own mental wellbeing and an independent review of student feedback from the University’s Guild of Students. Positive and constructive feedback from students informs our continuous improvement, awareness-raising and campaigning. In response to student feedback this year we have launched a significant “time to talk” campaign encouraging students to access support at particular times in the academic year. We have also been targeting students who are under-represented in accessing support, including but not limited to male students.
“We provide an extensive network of support services, including our 24/7 year-round mental health support service, UBHeard, and we work very closely with specialist providers and agencies within the city of Birmingham. Our wellbeing services are provided through an integrated network of support systems, operating at three primary levels: Wellbeing Teams in Schools and Colleges; Student Wellbeing Services; and services provided through partner organisations (including PAUSE, NHS Services, local GP, or other specialist agencies, and the Guild of Students).
“The Mental Health and Wellbeing Service is staffed by a team of experienced and qualified Practitioners who provide therapeutic support. Leading academics from the University’s Institute of Mental Health deliver research-informed guidance that informs practice to respond to suicidal behaviours and suicide prevention. Our specialist Pause service, tried and tested elsewhere in the city, provides no-wait drop-in services for students delivered in partnership with the Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and the Children’s Society.
“First responders at the University receive Mental Health First Aid training and the University has its own trainers to deliver this. Mechanisms for supporting vulnerable students and those at risk are embedded in our support and escalation procedures that underpin our approach to supporting student mental health and wellbeing.”
HUMEN’s UNIVERSITY MENTAL HEALTH LEAGUE TABLE Q&As
What is HUMEN’s University Mental Health League Table?
HUMEN’s Mental Health League Table is the first comprehensive national study and ranking on how universities equip their staff and support students with mental health difficulties. Covering every university across the UK with 10,000 students or more, the study and national league table complements other well-regarded higher education tables, such as The Complete University Guide.
Why did HUMEN create the University Mental Health League Table?
With suicide being the biggest killer of under 35s in the UK and following a series of high-profile student suicides during the pandemic, it’s important to ensure students are provided with quality, effective mental health support at university.
It’s common-place to rank universities academically so students have informative, unbiased and up-to-date information to help them decide where to apply. When choosing a university, students and parents should be aware of the mental health support available to them and the quality of staff training – the league table will also hold UK universities to account.
How are the scores measured?
HUMEN’s Mental Health League Table is calculated based on five criteria:
- Satisfaction (student satisfaction including overall mental health support, quality of mental health services)
- Engagement (including proportion of students who would use university services)
- Awareness (exploring the proportion of students who know where to find help at university)
- Financing (universities and their mental health budget per student)
- Provision (including staff training, designated members of staff and wait times), resulting in the final, overall rankings.
Eighty universities were approached and those which didn’t respond to HUMEN’s Freedom of Information request were negatively marked. HUMEN urges these universities to share the information so mental health support is accurately recorded in next year’s table.
Why do you recommend the Mental Health First Aid Training course?
HUMEN advocates for all university staff in a pastoral or welfare role to be enrolled in a training course via Mental Health First Aid England’s (MHFE). MHFE is a government-endorsed organisation and provides dedicated mental health first aid training. Universities signing their staff up for approved courses will ensure their students are properly supported, as well as performing better in next year’s league table.
Why has HUMEN penalised universities for signing up to other courses?
HUMEN is concerned about the quality of other courses, which may not provide thorough mental health training and instead focus on areas of wellbeing such as nutrition and exercise. Standardising mental health training at UK universities is crucial, and it will enable HUMEN and other mental health experts to ensure these institutions are providing effective, quality care to their students.
With universities training between 4-11% of their staff to deal with mental health issues, is it unrealistic or even necessary to demand training for every member of staff to be trained up and those outside of welfare/pastoral roles?
With a huge rise in students experiencing mental health difficulties, exacerbated during the pandemic, it’s imperative that staff coming into contact with students on a daily basis are trained to identify signs of concern. Staff need to be skilled and trained to help students and decide when students should be referred to clinicians or specialists. Mental Health First Aid England has online and in-person courses running between half a day to two days and will give staff the confidence and knowledge they need.
Universities are academic institutions, not hospitals – should they have mental health specialists on site?
Universities often have tens of thousands of students and for many young people it’s the first time they live away from their parents. It’s imperative that staff in welfare and pastoral roles have the basic training to spot warning signs early through Mental Health First Aid England’s courses. With so many young people on site, universities should also provide students with access to free, qualified counselors and psychotherapists who can direct students to specialised clinicians and services if necessary. It is unacceptable that at some universities, tens of thousands of students are waiting months just to see a trained health professional.
How can universities improve their score?
HUMEN encourages universities ranking further down the league table, or those who want to learn how to improve their score, to engage with the charity to better understand the criteria for performance.
One of the ways universities can improve their mental health provision is to contact HUMEN for support, resources, advice, and ways to roll out the HUMEN Space in university towns. The HUMEN Space is an anonymous and non-clinical safe space for men to talk, listen and connect on a regular basis across the UK.
Does the responsibility for student welfare rest solely on universities or should the government address this too?
While the responsibility resides with UK universities to ensure their student cohort is provided with quality mental health support, the government should put clear national policies and guidelines in place to help accelerate change.
We would also encourage other third-party organisations to monitor the availability and delivery of mental health support to students in higher education. UK universities must ensure that their staff are adequately trained and HUMEN would recommend a cross-industry approach to push for greater transparency at these institutions, to hold them to account.
What does the charity think about the UK government’s new mental health package?
Why does the charity focus exclusively on men?
While HUMEN encourages universities to provide mental health support for all its student population, with 75% of suicides being men and this fatality being the biggest killer of men under 45, it’s essential that men’s mental health is taken seriously. However, mental illness does not discriminate, and people of all genders and identities require support, and universities should engage with national and local mental health services and consider initiatives such as Mind, CALM and the Samaritans.
How can HUMEN support students?
The HUMEN Space is a free, anonymous and non-clinical safe space for men to talk, listen and connect on a regular basis across the UK. The charity can provide universities with advice and guidance on how to provide their students with mental health support, and also aims to install 100 HUMEN Spaces over the next three years in university towns to provide an anonymous, safe space for young people.
What does the charity think about the UK government’s new mental health package?
HUMEN is critical of the UK government’s university mental health package, which is approximately £1 per student and 1% of the funding needed to address the mental health crisis. HUMEN predicts a generation of failed students if universities and governments fail to address the issue immediately and provide at least £100 per student towards mental health support. HUMEN has a wealth of insight on shocking university budgets and lack of staff training on mental health, and urges the government to take this seriously, rather than insulting the families of students who have been lost to suicide.