New measures have been announced in an attempt to improve the well-being and mental health of students in the UK. The measures focus on three areas: the creation of a University Mental Health Charter; the development of a new group led by the Department of Education, which will focus on alleviating possible transitional issues that can arise when people enter university; and an investigation into the plausibility of there being an opt-in system that could be used by universities to inform parents about their child’s mental health.

The Universities Minister for the UK, Sam Gyimah, announced the measures today at a meeting about student mental health (MH) held at the University of the West of England.

Gyimah has urged universities to make MH a “top priority” saying that university should not be so focused on “training of the mind” to the detriment of their wellbeing as students can “feel overwhelmed and unknown in their new surroundings” which can result in student mental ill health going undetected by universities.

University Mental Health Charter

A key element of the measures is the development of a University Mental Health Charter. This charter will aim to get universities to increase provision for the promotion of the wellbeing, and support for MH issues, of those in the UK’s higher education institutions. It will relate to both students and staff of the educational institutions and will be “a voluntary award and quality improvement scheme” according to Student Minds, the charity which will head up its creation.

Student Minds, a charity focused on the MH and wellbeing of students in the UK, will create the charter in collaboration with the National Union for Students (NUS), Office for Students (OfS), and Universities UK. Advice will also be taken from university research groups. Funding from the University Partnerships Programme Foundation totalling £100 000 will aid the costs associated with its development. In a statement about the charter, Richard Brabner, the UPP Foundation’s Director, said he expects the charter “to transform the student experience, lead to cultural change across universities and ensure the issue remains high on the national political agenda.”

Mental health at universities

Today’s announcement by the Universities Minister comes a few days after the number of suicides in English and Welsh universities (2016-2017) was published. Coming from the Office of National Statistics, a research report found that 95 students had died by suicide during the 12-month period of investigation.

In a statement speaking of the findings, ONS’s Senior Researcher, Sarah Caul, said that the research findings “will help to develop policies and initiatives for those at greatest risk of suicide.”

Moreover, earlier this year it was reported that in a period of fewer than 18 months, seven students from the University of Bristol had died by suicide.

The CEO of Student Minds, Rosie Tressler, in response to today’s student MH measures announcement, conveyed that universities need to “make mental health a strategic priority, supporting the 1 in 4 students and staff experiencing mental ill health.” She further commented that in working with Student Minds’ collaborators on the developing of a University Mental Health Charter, “we will transform the futures of the 2.3 million students that are in Higher Education.”

Promotion of well-being and support for those experiencing MH is an area that was raised earlier this year with regard to Britain’s workplaces as highlighted in a charity report. The report by Mind, a UK MH charity, indicated that greater effort is needed to improve employee well-being [VIDEO] in the workplace.

If anyone is affected by themes raised in this article and would like to talk someone, please call Samaritans on 116 123 (UK and Ireland), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find out where the closest branch is.