From education to employment

Supporting students suffering with mental health problems

Henry Jones, CEO at Big White Wall

Henry Jones, has been CEO at Big White Wall for three months, here he sets out how the organisation helps thousands of students every year and his big plans for the future:

What is Big White Wall and how does it support students suffering with mental health problems?

Big White Wall is an online mental health community that allows students to support one another dealing with common mental health problems, in particular anxiety and depression.

It’s a safe, clinically moderated environment – a place for students to talk about how their feeling anonymously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is currently available to 800,000 university students and staff in the UK and via 48 HE and FE institutions.

What does Big White Wall offer students that traditional mental health support services do not?

In short, 24 hour, safe support. Many traditional services are working hours only, which doesn’t fit the lifestyle or needs of students who are working on assignments, revising for exams, holding down jobs or supporting families.

Many students also don’t study or attend a set campus based location, meaning traditional in-person services are difficult to access and often have long waiting lists.

Whilst it’s important to provide and signpost to GP’s and healthcare professionals, it’s vital to consider how young people and students would like to receive mental health support.

I am sure many would say support needs to be accessible anywhere, at anytime, something which in-person services simply can’t deliver. Online support won’t be suitable for some, but it will be a lifeline for many.

What more needs to be done to educate young people andstudents about the importance of reaching out for mental health support?

University is a huge upheaval for many young people who experience a lot of firsts in a short space of time, often a large proportion are leaving home, having to manage budgets and finances, live with people they’ve never met before and won’t always get on with, meet assignment and exam deadlines, and cope with what can be intense social scenes.

Couple this with the expectations that perhaps families, friends and even personally students place on themselves to do well and succeed can spike stress and anxiety levels.

Teaching and nurturing coping strategies are vital, and something that is spoken a lot about on our Big White Wall forums. The more resources in place to facilitate students talking about how they are feeling, and sharing coping strategies for tough periods, the better.

Have students seen a difference in their mental health since using the service?

Yes, we have lots of data to show how students across Big White Wall use the service, which makes for interesting reading. We can see that student members, more than any other cohort of members, complete a lot of tests, demonstrating this population like to understand what is going on with their mental health in order to improve it.

Similiarly, students are active posters in our community forums, sharing experiences, asking for advice, and providing much needed support to one another.

Our data shows that 1 in 2 students members have shared an issue for the first time since using our service and 68% said Big White Wall had improved their overall student experience.

The number of students dropping out of university with mental health problems has more than trebled in recent years, how can we combat this?

Put simply, by making sure that students have access to support networks that can help them cope with lifes’ challenges. It feeds back to this notion of teaching students coping mechanisms, tools and techniques to help process how they are feeling.

If we support all students before situations escalate to higher levels of need and distress, we free capacity to support those who need it most with specialist, high intensity treatment.

Online services have the ability to provide this lower level, population wide support, allowing in-person services to support those at the more severe end of the scale.

How can we ensure mental health support services are more visible within universities to students?

By working together. It’s vital that providers like ourselves and university services work closely to publicise and showcase support on offer.

We are fortunate in that the institutions we partner with work incredibly hard to promote support services available to students, and we have a Big White Wall team of people on hand to support with this.

Henry Jones, CEO at Big White Wall

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