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Home Article Mental health in HE: staff and students not accessing support

Mental health in HE: staff and students not accessing support

Published: 13/02/2015

Around half of staff and students in UK universities with mental health difficulties are not asking for the help and support they may need out of lack of information or fear of receiving unfair treatment, according to our survey of 2063 HE staff and 1442 students.

Around 60% of student respondents and around 50% of staff respondents had not officially spoken to anyone in their university about getting support or adjustments to engage fully in education and employment opportunities.

However, seeking support can have real benefits in helping students meet their course requirements or manage their workload efficiently, according to the findings published today in a report Understanding adjustments: supporting staff and students who are experiencing mental health difficultiesOf those who did seek support from their university, doing so had a positive or very positive effect on work or study for 78% of students and 74% of staff.

Higher numbers have disclosed to colleagues or fellow students informally and found that the response was supportive. 75% of students answering the survey had shared their difficulties with their peers, with 78% receiving supportive, or very supportive, responses. A smaller proportion of staff had disclosed to colleagues (62%), but with an 84% positive response.

Chris Brill, senior policy adviser at Equality Challenge Unit led the research.

‘Although a wide range of support and adjustments are available, currently a lot of staff and students aren’t accessing it.

People do seem to be more willing to disclose informally to colleagues and fellow students, to a very supportive response. Although some people are fearful of receiving unfair treatment, that generallyisn’t borne out by the experiences of those who have spoken to someone.

We need to focus on developing environments that not only make it more acceptable and comfortable to disclose mental health difficulties, but also translate this into encouraging people to access vital support. Universities should also reflect on how they can change their practices to make education and employment opportunities open to all.’

Rosie Tressler was part of the advisory group for ECU research and is Network and Projects manager at Student Minds. Writing in the foreword to the report she highlights that there are some potential solutions:

‘Throughout this report staff and students have recommended a number of solutions to help to increase disclosure rates and raise awareness of the support and adjustments available. Furthermore, higher education institutions have provided examples of initiatives they have undertaken to increase awareness and deliver support effectively.’

ECU has been working with other HE sector organisations to consider the recommendations and findings from the survey, and launches ahead of University Mental Health and Wellbeing day on 18 February. Organised by the University Mental Health Advisers Network, the day will be focusing on the theme ‘I chose to disclose’ to raise awareness and increase clarity about the disclosure process in universities. The report was launched today at  Student mental wellbeing: policy, practice and future directions alongside good practice guidance from Universities UK and the Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Working Group.