Going to university can be a challenging time for any student. The pressures of work and exams, as well as huge fees, can trigger stress, anxiety and depression -  conditions which are on the up amongst students. 

A trained mental health first aider can help spot the early warning signs of these problems and enable students get the support they need to carry on with their studies. Now research by CE Safety, the health and safety training provider, can reveal which universities across the UK have the highest number of mental health first aiders available to their students.

The number of mental health first aiders varies greatly across UK institutions - but there are four universities that have trained over 500 people to recognise signs of a mental health problem and to help students find support:

  • The University of Edinburgh has trained over 200 staff per year over the last three academic years, giving a total of 731 members of staff trained to recognise signs of mental health problems. 
  • The University of Leicester has trained 674 of its staff, including academic staff and student facing staff (such as security or residential staff) - and offers the second-highest number of trained staff per capita (38 mental health first aiders for every thousand students).
  • In 2019, the University of Plymouth trained 552 members of staff to be Mental Health Champions or First Aiders, 
  • Whilst the University of Nottingham has trained 544

But looking at the data proportionally reveals that universities on the south coast of England actually have the highest number of mental health first aiders available per student in the UK:

  • Arts University Bournemouth may have just shy of 3500 students, but with over 200 mental health first aiders, it’s top of the list, with 58 members of staff available for every 1000 students. Nearby, Bournemouth University also performs well, with 232 members of staff supporting its students’ mental health (12 per capita). 
  • In Devon, The University of Plymouth has 26 staff for every thousand students, whilst in Cornwall, Falmouth University has 25 members of staff per thousand.

Not all universities provide as much support, though - and an example of how widely training can vary can be seen when looking at Scotland:  

  • The University of Edinburgh leads the way across the whole of the UK in terms of sheer numbers of mental health first aiders (731 members of staff / 22 available per thousand students), and Glasgow University has 303 members of staff (10 per thousand). 
  • But some Scottish universities have a lot fewer; for example, the University of the Highlands and Islands and Glasgow Caledonian only have 1.5 first aiders for every 1000 students. Others, such as the University of St Andrews and Abertay (Dundee), don’t keep any records of staff mental health training at all. 

This disparity can also be seen in Wales and Northern Ireland: 

  • Cardiff is the city which offers a good deal of student support at both of its institutions. Cardiff Metropolitan has 204 mental health first aiders (19.5 per capita), whilst Cardiff University has 181 (5.6 per capita). 
  • However, in comparison, Swansea University only has 28 trained staff in total, and Harper Adams only has four. 
  • Of Northern Ireland’s two universities, Queen’s University Belfast has 38 first aid trained staff - but Ulster University does not hold any data about how many staff have been trained in mental health first aid.

London has more universities than any other UK city, with twenty nine institutions across the capital:

  • Queen Mary University, in London’s East End, has the highest number of trained staff in the capital, with 278 qualified mental health first aiders - that’s 13 for every 1000 students. Kingston University comes a close second with 264, and Imperial College has trained 223. 
  • The universities with the fewest trained mental health first aiders are the University of West London (5 / 0.4 per thousand students) and City University (9 / 0.5 per thousand). 

Universities are recognising the difference that this vital training for their students, with many expanding their staff training each academic year. Early intervention and support can enable students to find the right help, allowing them to continue with their studies with a robust support network around them. 

Gary Ellis from CE Safety said: “With one in four people in the UK experiencing mental health problems each year, having a network of trained mental health first aiders is essential to any university. Training can help you to spot the warning signs of someone who may be in need of help and encourage them to get support to get through their time at university - and could even save a life.” 

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