Wednesday 18 February was University Mental Health Day, an annual event to promote the mental health of those who study and work in the higher education sector.
Started by the University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN) in 2012, the event aims to get people talking about mental health to ensure that those who need support can get it.
On Twitter, the #UniMentalHealthDay hashtag had people talking. “1 in 5 students have a mental health problem,” tweeted Time to Change (@TimetoChange), an anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, the mental health charities.
“Around 1/2 HE staff & students with mental health difficulties not asking for support,” said the Equality Challenge Unit (@EqualityinHE), which champions equality and diversity among the sector’s staff and students.
UMHAN (@UMHANUK) also used the day to launch the #IChoseToDisclose campaign, which encourages those with mental health difficulties to tell their university and support network. In a blog, the organisation tells students they could “disclose at any time; during the Ucas process when enrolling on your course, before beginning your course, during the university experience”. Deciding when to do so is “a personal and unique process”, it says.
A number of universities tweeted to show how they were getting involved. The University of Wolverhampton (@wlv_uni) had Wolverhampton Healthy Minds, an NHS service providing talking therapies, on campus to provide “free emotional wellbeing checks”. The University of Nottingham held a workshop about the Look After Your Mate campaign, which encourages students to support each other and is run by the Nottingham branch of the Student Minds charity. Officially, some 50 institutions arranged activities for the day.
The day also prompted Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, to use his organisation’s blog to highlight a speech he had made to the Working Group for the Promotion of Mental Well-Being in Higher Education.
In it, he flags up a development at George Washington University in the US, which he says has “announced an increase in tuition fees of 3.4 per cent – to a whopping $50,367 (£32,604) a year – but they have also said much of the extra funding will be used to fund more than eight new positions in the University Counselling Center”.
“According to the media,” Mr Hillman writes, “my namesake at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nicholas Hillman, a professor specialising in financial aid for students, has said linking the increase in fees to the demand for counselling services could better connect the university community to the issue of students’ mental health.”
He concludes that it is “hard to imagine the amount of money available for educating each student being increased in the UK on the specific grounds that it would enable more funding for mental health support for students”, or that politicians would see this as “a useful way of earning support for higher fees”.
“The many excellent organisations and individuals seeking to help improve the mental wellbeing of students will know they have succeeded when that no longer seems such an unlikely outcome,” he says.
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