C/N mental health, brief mentions of suicide.
The past few years have seen a marked increase in conversations from both students’ unions, and universities about student mental health. At Sussex, we have seen some brilliant campaigns, from the Elephant in the Room which aims to reduce the stigma around mental health; to the Time to Change campaign, which focuses on wellbeing, and facilitating open and honest conversations about mental health. These initiatives are invaluable as a way of fostering acceptance of mental health issues, and encouraging people to seek help. However, whilst awareness is a good thing, it is unsafe to promote awareness without increasing services available to help those struggling with mental health issues at the same time.
An increase in awareness of mental health issues means an increase in students reporting their mental health issues, which means an increase in demand for services, which institutions have a duty to provide.
In 2015, a report from the National Union of Students (NUS) found that 78% of respondents to their student mental health survey have experienced mental health problems in that year, and that 87% had felt stress; 77% had suffered anxiety; and, 69% had felt depressed in the last year. In certain groups, there were higher proportions of mental health issues, for example, 55% of respondents who did not self define as hetersosexual had experienced suicidal thoughts. (from NUS Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Guide, 2015)
That’s why the Students’ Union, and University of Sussex are working together on the Mental Health Joint Action Plan, to increase support for students so that they can make the most of their time at Sussex, and be healthy and happy doing their studies. The Students’ Union and University signed the Time To Change Pledge in 2013, committing to taking action around mental health.
The Joint Action Plan has three strands; raising awareness, support for students, and policy and practices. Actions include increasing space for the counselling services, and working towards a new space for support in Brighton, providing mental health first aid and suicide prevention training for university staff, working with international students to provide them with the best support, and reviewing the academic exceptional circumstances procedure to make it easier for those experiencing mental health flare ups to submit a claim.
It is vital that these measures are put in place as soon as possible, as a rise in student numbers mean more students needing to access services. Along with this, a rise in tuition fees and student hardship, and cuts to financial support available, mean that student mental health problems nationally, are becoming more and more visible. (NUS Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Guide.)
At the Students’ Union, we will continue to run the Time to Change Campaign, which will be focusing on putting on Wellbeing week, and creating a Mental Health Zine, as well as the amazing SWAN Peer Support Group continuing to run, providing informal peer to peer wellbeing support.
If you need to access support, you can do so via the Counselling Service, or Student Life Centre. We’ve also compiled a list of organisations in Brighton offering support for those affected by suicide or suicidal thoughts
Got a comment/criticism about anything discussed in this article? Let us know on our social media channels!
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