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NUS Scotland responds to new student mental health research

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Students Union calls for urgent student mental health action plan 

New research published by Mental Health Foundation today (Thursday, 18 November 2021)  has revealed nearly three quarters (74%) of university students surveyed reported having low wellbeing and more than one third of university students surveyed (36%) reported moderately severe or severe symptoms of depression.

Furthermore, nearly half of respondents (45%) reported that they had experienced a serious psychological issue that they felt needed professional help.

It is clear that existing inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic with 22 per cent of students  worried about running out of food and 24 per cent eating less due to lack of money, these studentswere likely to have already been struggling financially.

Responding to the findings Matt Crilly, NUS Scotland President, said:

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“I am deeply disturbed that so many students are unable to pay for food due to a lack of money, digital poverty is clearly on the rise and more students than ever before are experiencing depression. Behind each one of these statistics is a real student, and their stories break my heart.

“Today’s research lays bare the reality of the widespread challenges many students are facing which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Decision-makers must open their eyes and take action on the suggested recommendations.

“The Scottish Government cannot ignore students right now; we need a student mental health action plan urgently- backed up by long-term funding to solve a problem of this scale.

“We need financial support that meets the cost of living, and we need access to mental health and wellbeing support when we need it if we are to fundamentally get to the heart of the problems.”

Recommendations from Thriving Learners 

  1. Increased focus on and funding for wellbeing supports. Specifically for Student Mental Health Agreements to include a dedicated section and funding for wellbeing supports. The Scottish Government should increase funding for the HEI sector, but this should not be ring-fenced for counselling only but include ability to increase capacity and interventions for a wider wellbeing support. Additional recommendations to strengthen the wellbeing system within Higher Education Institutions include:
  • Need for consistency of language across the sector to describe different forms of support – to help students and staff understand and navigate wider student support systems.
  • Innovative solutions to increase staff skills knowledge and confidence to cope with student wellbeing needs
  • Individual institutions simplifying existing pathways to wellbeing support and broader supports they offer from the perspective of the student
  • A campaign to raise the profile of wellbeing supports – beyond counselling – and the benefits they can bring.
  1. Higher Education Institutions should incorporate student wellbeing as a measure of success as part of their enhancement model. Individual institutions are likely to require guidance on this from the sector as a whole.
  2. The NHS and HEI sector should undertake a process to agree the parameters on the duty of care of universities. This should be supported by agreement on a streamlined referral pathway for students who need more intensive support than can be provided within the university setting. Once agreed, these pathways should be implemented across the sector. This should be done with urgency as some students are currently being failed by both systems.
  3. Universities should undertake consultation and/or research to understand the nature of mental health stigma among students. This should help inform future activity to challenge stigma including enabling staff to address stigma.
  4. Universities should undertake consultation and/or research to gain fuller understanding of the impact of trauma on student mental health and wellbeing and the wider student experience. This should include but not be limited to the areas of exploration within this study regarding adverse childhood experiences (ACES), bullying and food insecurity. This should help inform future activity to implement a trauma informed approach across the university sector.
  5. Higher Education Institutions should implement a whole system approach to become fully trauma informed. This is likely to require guidance from the sector and informed stakeholders including to support trauma-informed academic design and content.
  6. A roundtable discussion between key stakeholders on how to reduce student poverty and the supports required, particularly in light of the widening access agenda.  This should include discussion on food insecurity.  This would enable further exploration of the findings from this study alongside wider evidence. This should include HEI sector representatives, Scottish Government and poverty charities. 
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