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NUS Scotland publishes landmark student mental health research

Student struggling

@NUSScotland has today (Wednesday 28 October) published landmark research into student mental health.

The research commissioned by Think Positive, an NUS Scotland project funded by Scottish Government, included a student survey of over 3,000 college and university students in Scotland, alongside in-depth analysis of the mental health and wellbeing services of eight case-study institutions across Scotland.

It is believed that the research, covering further and higher education students, is the first of its kind in Scotland.

Findings of the research include:

  • Almost half of students surveyed (49.9%) cited lack of money or financial pressures as negatively impacting on their mental health.
  • Students are most likely to have concerns about mental health at the start of their studies with 72% citing their first year of study as a time when they had concerns about their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Students cited a range of factors associated with study as impacting negatively on their mental health: almost half (48.7%) cited coping with course workload.
  • Of those students surveyed who used a support service, institutional or external (e.g. NHS or third sector), more than half of respondents (59.6%) had to wait to access the support they needed.  For those students who had to wait just over half (53.8%) waited more than a month, and 20.8% waited more than three months.
  • Institutions that took part in the research reported the practice of ‘backfilling’ NHS services because of under-capacity in the health service.
  • Around four times as many higher education (78.4%-81%) than further education students (19%-21.6%) were aware of mental health and wellbeing support available to them.

Recommendations in the report include:

  • Consideration given to further improvements that could be made to student cost-of-living support, especially in the context of Covid-19.
  • Consideration given to ensuring equity of access to counselling services among all students, so that no student is disadvantaged because of the institution they attend.
  • Steps to improve waiting times for NHS mental health services, and action to reduce the difficulties students experience in accessing them.
  • Embed mental health and wellbeing in learning and teaching practice and curriculum designed, alongside the availability of training for teaching and student-facing staff.
  • Alignment of student mental health strategies with Student Mental Health Agreements (SMHAs).

Commenting on the publication of research, NUS Scotland President Matt Crilly said:

“I’m delighted to present this research. I hope the report and the recommendations included within it, will inform decision-makers – in government and in our institutions – on what they need to do next to provide a consistent level of mental health and wellbeing support for all students across Scotland.

“It’ll come as no surprise that lack of money is one of the biggest drivers of poor mental health and wellbeing amongst students. While improvements to cost-of-living support introduced by the Scottish Government are welcome, they do not go far enough and need to be built on – now more than ever due to the economic devastation being caused by Covid-19.

“Also unsurprising is that the pressures of study negatively impact on student mental health. Students are a resilient bunch, but we need to see mental health and wellbeing embedded in all that colleges and universities do, including the curriculum.

“The Scottish Government’s investment in 80 new counsellors across our colleges and universities is welcome. We now need to see steps taken to introduce equity of access. The level of support which students receive depends on their level of study and the institution they attend. That needs to change.

“It’ll come as no surprise that students face long wait-times for NHS mental health services, but it is deeply concerning that our institutions are picking up the slack. This is a public health issue and the government have a responsibility to ensure that NHS mental health services meet demand.”

Commenting on the findings in respect of the upcoming winter break, Matt Crilly said: 

“We remain very concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on students – given the opportunities to socialise with friends and family have been drastically reduced. Institutions and accommodation providers alike have a duty of care to ensure that their mental health and wellbeing is supported at this time.

“The research published today confirms that students rely on family and friends more than anyone else to support their mental health and wellbeing. It’s crucial that the Scottish Government provides clarity on students’ ability to return home safely for the winter break in a way that doesn’t negatively impact on their mental health.”

Commenting the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science Richard Lochhead said:

“Student wellbeing is of paramount importance, and we want to reassure students and families that practical and welfare support is in place, particularly given current circumstances.

“The Scottish Government has committed funding to introduce more than 80 additional counsellors in colleges and universities. Some of these counsellors are already in place, and we are well on our way to achieving that goal.

“Universities will have accessible wellbeing services, with details on their websites. In addition, the Student Information Scotland website has the student support pages of every institution to signpost students to the support which is available.

“During the pandemic we have committed £6 million of funding to improve mental health throughout Scotland, and students have access to all services available to the general population. This includes the “Clear Your Head” campaign to support people to take care of their mental health and wellbeing.

“We have also expanded the NHS24 Mental Health Hub so that it is now available 24 hours a day,  seven days a week, and increased the capacity of the Breathing Space telephone helpline and web support service.”

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