Student support services at the heart of a whole-university approach to student mental health and wellbeing
At Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, we are continually in awe of university support service teams and the work they do to ensure every student has the chance at a transformative educational experience. However, the increase in demand for support services means they are understandably stretched. This trend is only set to continue. In a recent survey we conducted, 75% of respondents said that the pandemic has worsened their mental health. We wanted to share how the Student Minds University Mental Health Charter can help support services teams reflect on their provision and identify solutions for meeting demand and enhancing support for students.
Developed with input from thousands of staff, students and higher education professionals across the UK, the University Mental Health Charter is a framework of evidence-informed principles to support universities to adopt good practice in mental health and wellbeing. The Charter encourages universities to take a whole-university approach, considering how every element of university life can effectively respond to mental illness and promote mental health and wellbeing.
At the heart of a whole-university approach are student support services. The Support Services theme in the Charter sets out six evidence-informed principles that are fundamental for services to meet student needs. These are: well-resourced, safe, effective, responsive to current and future need and to local context, accessible and well-governed.
Ensuring safe and effective services is all about having appropriately equipped, qualified and supervised staff delivering support, as well as ensuring the service is delivering the best outcomes for students and not causing harm.
Responsiveness to current and future needs involves taking proactive, ongoing steps to understand the local student population, their needs and experiences. We know that mental illness in young people not yet of university age is increasing in prevalence and complexity and support services also need to anticipate and prepare to respond to this.
Accessibility means ensuring students with disabilities can physically use the service, but also removing practical and perceived barriers to students accessing support. For example, opening hours, location, or long waiting times have all been identified as accessibility issues. It also means ensuring staff are able to provide culturally competent support for students from minoritised and racialised communities.
By well-governed, we mean having a commitment to good, ongoing oversight and improvement of support services, with the necessary frameworks in place to support this. This includes ensuring university leaders and support services staff understand and are equipped to carry out their responsibilities in creating safe and effective services.
The Support Services theme of the Charter is not intended to be read on it’s own - support services have a role in ensuring cohesiveness of support across the university, effective management of risk and information sharing, building external partnerships and ensuring staff wellbeing. Co-creating services with students can ensure they are safe, effective, accessible and responsive to need. Beyond this, support services cut across all other areas of the Charter to ensure a whole-university joined-up approach to mental health and wellbeing. To carry out their core role effectively, it is paramount that support services are well resourced.
Through the University Mental Health Charter Programme, Student Minds are working with 41 member universities to engage with evidence, their teams, students and each other to understand how they are approaching the Charter’s principles of good practice. This process of reflection is helping teams identify support needs and evaluate solutions that are best suited to their unique context.
Some universities may turn to tech and software solutions to support signposting, communication between teams, collection and analysis of student data or to provide alternative modes of accessing support. The correct blend of in-person and tech depends on the context of each university. Ensuring that solutions are grounded in evidence and are relevant to the services’ needs, the student body and the environment and culture of the university is vital, whatever the mode of delivery.
To find more about the University Mental Health Charter and how we are supporting universities, visit our website. Together, we can shape a future in which everyone in higher education can thrive.
Tribal’s partnership with Student Minds provides a unique opportunity for Tribal and Student Minds to share expertise, advice, and experiences, to help students and members of the university community to look after their mental health, support others and create change. Tribal are proud to be working with 31 of the institutions that have joined the University Mental Health Charter Programme, providing a variety of products and services that enhance the student experience throughout their learning journey.
Tribal can support university support services by providing technology to engage, guide and empower students with dedicated tailored support. Give students personalised information at their fingertips, on any device and at any time. From cross-platform enquiry management through to handling of individual student needs, Tribal Student Support & Wellbeing enables all forms of student support to be securely managed in the cloud.