The New Mental Health Charter
I was thrilled to see yesterday that the University Mental Health Charter was released. It brings together a set of principles that would make mental health a priority in all universities. I saw in a Guardian article back in September, entitled, ‘The way universities are run is making us ill’: inside the student mental health crisis’, that universities have seen a surge in referrals for anxiety and depression. It reported that in the 12 months ending July 2017, the rate of suicide for university students in England and Wales was 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students, which equates to 95 suicides or about 1 death every four days. You can read the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/sep/27/anxiety-mental-breakdowns-depression-uk-students
It seems timely then that the University Mental Health Charter has landed after mounting concerns over student mental health. So, what’s it all about? Well for starters, it’s a voluntary scheme that awards those universities that make huge strides in mental health support. The Charter aims to support change by providing a reference point for staff and students to understand what good practice looks like in improving mental health and wellbeing, which can only be a positive step.
A large part of this will come down ultimately, to the University Leadership teams and how seriously they decide to take the Charter. With it not being legally binding, they have no real obligation to get involved with the Charter. However, what I do like about it, is it’s attempts to encourage innovation and the development of good practice. It is not based on targets or box ticking, but challenges universities to continually improve, which can’t be a bad thing. It recognises that there isn’t a one size fits all solutions to this problem.
It’s also interesting to see that this is a Third Sector rather than Government led initiative, from Student Minds a charity that has been working towards improving the mental health and wellbeing of students and university communities since 2008. They now work with over 120 universities across the UK, supported by national research, policy and campaigning work.
What’s in the Charter?
The Charter takes it’s starting point from the notion of what an ideal approach to improve the mental health outcomes for the whole university community look like? It’s purpose is to offer clarity based on an evidence informed framework. Lets look at the details. The framework is composed of 18 themes mapped across 4 areas such as learn, support, work and live. Within each of the themes, it lays out what each theme covers, evidence supporting why it is important and what matters within this theme and finally the principles of good practice.
Some of the key points I noticed include the following:
- It talks a lot about the importance of supporting transitions whether that be from full-time education into higher education or progression post-degree, which are notoriously stressful times for students
- It specifically looks at the role teaching and learning support staff can play in supporting mental health and wellbeing through good pedagogic practice as well as training to assess risk and alert services
- That the necessary services are resourced which is ultimately what this all comes down to
- The need for a more collaborative approach between Universities, the NHS, Social Care and third sector agencies including information sharing
- Interestingly it also highlights staff wellbeing a the need to enable staff to discuss their own mental health by offering proactive interventions
- The need for Universities to be proactive in promoting mental health starting with cultural changes
- It specifically talks about University/Residential accommodation and the importance of having arrangements in place to recognise poor mental health and refer students
In order for this to work there needs to be clear leadership when it comes to strategy and policy with a whole university approach adopted in order for it to work. The Charter recognises that student voice and participation is vital and that without cohesiveness of support this will be hard to achieve. Finally, it recognises the need for inclusivity and intersectionality in mental health to address barriers to those seeking support.
If you’d like to read the full charter or even just the highlights then head over to: https://www.studentminds.org.uk/charter.html