Dr Derek Richards, Director of Clinical Research & Innovation at SilverCloud Health

Starting university can be a stressful time for students. Moving away from home and family, students can often find themselves far from people they would have normally relied on for support.

The pressures of establishing a new social network is a knock-on consequence of this, on top of the more practical tasks of managing a budget for the first time, adapting to an independent learning style and regular coursework/exams.

For most students, these changes are challenging but exciting, for some, if unmanaged they can become overwhelming, which can negatively impact their mental health.

With half of all young adults accessing higher education by the time they are thirty, and an overall UK student population of 2.3 million – it is important to recognise students as a sub-population of young adults, who have distinct identities, characteristics and needs.

The Minding Our Future report states that almost 60,000 students disclosed a mental health condition last year, although many more are expected to have undisclosed or undiagnosed mental health conditions.

The report also states that young people with a mental health condition are more likely to experience difficulties in their future employment.

As studies have shown that 75% of all mental illness develops by the age of 24, universities have a unique opportunity to break down the taboo around mental health and provide these young adults with management techniques which they can utilise in future life, including in the workplace.

Around 15% of those in work in England have symptoms of a mental health condition, many individuals with mental health problems are struggling emotionally, off sick, less productive, or leaving employment. The Thrive at Work report noted that 300,000 people with a long term mental health condition leave employment every year, equivalent to the whole population of Newcastle or Belfast.

By better equipping students to cope and be more resilient, we can hopefully turn the tide against the growing epidemic of workplace mental health issues.

The Minding Our Future report calls on universities and the NHS to do more to fulfil their duty of care to support students experiencing mental health difficulties and to safeguard those at risk. Despite this, universities have limited resources, meaning that face-to-face mental health solutions can be hard for some students to reach.

Online therapies, such as SilverCloud Health, give counsellors the opportunity to engage with 6 times more students than in a face-to-face environment. The SilverCloud Health programme evidence-based content is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) based and is conducted online – helping students to manage day to day stresses and anxieties, as well as more distressing feeling.

CBT is a type of psychological therapy which has been found to be very effective for treating common mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression. CBT is based on the concepts that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behaviours are all connected, and that unhelpful thoughts and behaviours can trap you in a vicious cycle leading to emotional challenges.

CBT offers coping skills and strategies to help you change any unhelpful thought patterns to improve the way you feel in the present.

Ultimately, CBT helps you to better manage how you think, feel and behave. Unlike some other therapies, CBT focuses on solving your current problems, rather than concentrating on issues from your past.

The main benefit of online therapies for students is that they can access and work through the programme at their own pace, any place, anytime across all devices whilst still receiving the adequate input they need from a trained supporter.

As Director of Clinical Research and Innovation at SilverCloud Health, part of my job includes trying to make our content as interactive and engaging as possible by including a wide range of evidence-based tools and activities to support the principles of key CBT skills and strategies. SilverCloud Health recently launched a new design which delivers more personalised care to improve engagement, navigation and the overall user experience. The origin of SilverCloud Health was in the university setting.

Feedback from students is positive and in many cases the flexibility and convenience that online therapy offers to students is a key aspect of why it is successful with this population.

Effectively the pace, control and direction of the treatment is firmly placed into the hands of the user. Students can choose when and where to access the platform and this can be when they are distressed or in times of relaxation, meaning they can use it when they most need support.

A big plus for many students has been the ability with SilverCloud to revisit the content as a way of reengaging and relearning or boosting what has already been learnt. Similarly, many revisit the platform to access the relaxation and mindfulness exercises, particularly at stressful exam times.

SilverCloud provides mental health solutions for universities, as well as numerous organisations – meaning it could be used throughout the life stages as a ‘space for emotional health’.

Learning and building on skills to manage mental health and developing resilience during early adulthood is vital. I firmly believe mental health treatment should be accessible as and when people need it, throughout the course of their lives.

Dr Derek Richards, Director of Clinical Research & Innovation at SilverCloud Health

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