Student Minds: Covid-19 and Student Mental Health: Supporting the most impacted groups

Posted by Ella Higham

On 22nd April 2021, Tribal virtually attended a Student Minds led event - Covid-19 and Student Mental Health: Supporting the most impacted groups webinar, with the hope to listen to students’ experiences and learn about new resources available via Student Space. As a Student Space Comms Champion Tribal want to share the content and resources to our audience.

 Student Space launched in August 2020 and is run by Student Minds, a UK student mental health charity, and has been developed collaboratively with services, higher education professionals, researchers, and students to complement the existing services available to students. Student Space’s mission is to make it easier for students to find the support they need during the coronavirus pandemic. Student Space offers three main avenues to help:

  • Providing access to dedicated support services
  • Providing information and advice to help students through the challenges of coronavirus
  • Helping students find what support is available at their university  

The webinar featured four discussion panels and centred around the fact that not all students have been impacted by the pandemic equally. For some, the mental health repercussions of the past year have been felt more acutely, and they may be more likely to need or benefit from additional support.

Student Space has teamed up with a variety of organisations to launch a new package of innovative, tailored services to support students that have been disproportionately impacted:

This blog highlights some of the organisations delivering these new services and provides further details about the new support package available through Student Space.

Supporting students with specific mental health conditions and experiences

Panel one discussed a student’s experiences during the pandemic with OCD. The student gave an honest and open account about how the pandemic coupled with OCD had led to a significant negative impact on her relationships, university studies, and self-esteem.

 Rosie, CEO at Student Minds said,

“We know through student testimony and student surveys that students with some specific mental health conditions and experiences have had additional challenges.”

OCD Action, a national charity run by and for people with lived experience of OCD, explained that the pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on students with OCD and has led many others to experience symptoms of OCD for the first time. OCD action believes connection and community can make a big difference for someone living with OCD. OCD Action offers a peer support project that provides safe spaces for students to come together and share their experiences and ideas with other students who have a shared understanding. They are also offering group-based information sessions facilitated by someone with lived experience of OCD and an expert in the field and expert-led monthly webinars. Find out more about the support they are offering here.

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Voice Collective is a UK-wide, London-based project that supports children and young people who hear voices, see visions, and/or have other ‘unusual’ sensory experiences or beliefs. They respect autonomy and encourage people to make sense of their experiences in their own way. Voice Collective will be offering an online peer support group for student voice hearers to join and meet other students who are going through similar experiences and deliver training to UK universities about understanding voice-hearing from different perspectives. They are also working on creating resources centred around coping with hearing voices when sitting exams or trying to study. Find out more here.

First Steps ED, provide non-clinical early intervention and prevention services to young people affected by eating difficulties and disorders that complement the NHS and Public Health in the community. They offer counselling and online befriending services as extra capacity to the NHS, currently under incredible pressure due to the pandemic. Going forward, First Steps ED will be a secondary capacity for robust professionals to refer students to, as opposed to having to create a new referral pathway.

Rosie, CEO at Student Minds, added,

“We are trying to get the message out to students that while there are a lot of challenges facing society at the moment, there is a lot of fantastic support available, which is what we want to highlight today.”

Supporting students from working-class backgrounds

The second panel led to discussion around the experiences of students from working-class backgrounds. One student explained the financial issues surrounding Covid and the lack of jobs to apply for to help with finances. There was an understanding that there are different levels of pressures for people depending on their backgrounds, on top of online pressures and virtual learning.

RECLAIM, a youth leadership and social change organisation, are a small but bold charity that uses their experience and platform to support and amplify the voices of working-class young people. They discussed that many working-class students have added pressure due to worrying about where finances are coming from and not wanting to put pressure on their families. Worries about what laptops and technology are required for remote lectures have also affected students' mental health. To ensure working-class student's voices are heard, RECLAIM is launching a monthly webinar and a podcast series where working-class students and graduates can talk about their experiences and how they affected them and receive advice. Find out more about this new series here.

Supporting trans and gender questioning students

Panel three focused on the support of Mermaids, one of the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ charities, empowering thousands of people with its secure online communities, local community groups, helpline services, web resources, events, and residential weekends. During Covid there has been a rise in calls from both young people and over twenties. Mermaids are committed to extending their services by offering a space on their forums for students.

It was highlighted that in recent years, Student Minds has connected with Daniel Eisenberg, Principal Investigator, for the Healthy Mind Study in the US. In 2019, their data showed that gender non-conforming students were four times more likely than their peers to report mental health issues.

A recent student explained he feels this is due to people having negative feelings about their bodies which has only been impacted more so due to the pandemic. From not receiving the proper support at home and struggling with not seeing trans friends and support groups during lockdown, both have played a big part in the downfall.

Mermaids have now extended their services for up to 25-year-olds at university after seeing the sharp rise in waiting times, with the adult gender services now having a three-year waiting list. Find out more about this new extended service here.

Supporting racialised and minoritised students

The final panel centred around supporting racialised and minoritised students.

Black People Talk, is a non-profit organization that co-design, develop, and facilitate peer-wellbeing support groups, workshops, and psychoeducation resources for Black students. One programme they have, black students talk, essentially deals with black students' mental health in higher education. They aim to create spaces for students to be themselves and to talk and learn about their mental health.

Taraki, is an organisation that works with Punjabi communities to reshape approaches to mental health and was founded in late 2017 through personal hardship as a student and realising many within the Punjabi community were unable to access adequate support. They currently focus on mental health awareness, mental health education, social supports and research.

Muslim Youth Helpline , are a faith and culturally sensitive support service helpline for vulnerable Muslims in the UK. They provide emotional support and signposting for the Muslim community to service users through phone, email, webchat and WhatsApp.

The impact of the black movement and the death of George Floyd was widely discussed, with the terms collective trauma and collective grieving used to explain how all black people felt at that time. It was stressed that the impact is still ongoing and that Black People Talk will be holding facilitated workshops over the next few months to provide a space to discuss, be validated, and not be made to feel that what they are saying is not reality. Find out more about the workshops they will be running here.

Taraki will be working with Student Space to facilitate workshops and discussions around mental health and wellbeing topics with Punjabi students that they feel they cannot speak about with their friends and families. The spaces will be culturally attuned and facilitated by people who identify as Punjabi and have the skills to hold these spaces. Find out more here.

Muslim Youth Helpline has seen a 313% increase in helpline calls since March 2020. Calls have centred around family issues and adjusting to living in close proximity, family members becoming sick and leading to anxiety, adjusting to online learning, the loss of routine and lack of clarity and abusive relationships under lockdown have all taken a tremendous toll on wellbeing and mental health. Find out more about the support available through Muslim Youth Helpline here.

Final thoughts

The pandemic has taught us that we are not all impacted by calamities in the same way. The organisations within the webinar all offer something unique to their service users and we remain optimistic about the work Student Space is providing, tailored to specific needs.

To access Student Space’s new innovative resources, click here



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