Mental health in universities …still lethargic

mental-health-in-higher-educationI work in a university – the same university where I studied my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. The same university where I was first diagnosed with mental illness, and the same university which has supported me ever since my diagnosis. I am incredibly grateful to work where I do, and to work with such incredible individuals. While I was a student the support I received through the Student Services mental health and wellbeing team was fantastic – the Mental Health Adviser within Student Services was able to organise practical support that enabled me to manage my mental health around my studies, as well as contact my GP and Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) when I was in crisis. Most importantly I had a space to express my concerns about dealing with mental health while at university – something which I never realised I needed, and something that I am whole-heartedly grateful for.

Now I work full-time at my university and I have been overwhelmed by the number of students that contacted me in relation to mental health. Having used the university’s counselling and mental health team myself I have been able to guide students in the direction of support, as well as signposting them to charities and organisations such as Student MindsStudents Against Depression and Vital Time by Griffin Ambitions LTD. While my job role doesn’t directly focus on mental health I certainly spend a great amount of time supporting students – or working on mental health projects. I do however know my limits, and I know when and where to go if I feel unable to support a student – Student Services and our Students’ Union are fantastic in working alongside me to ensure that we offer the best possible support for students. However, I do wonder how this works in other institutions – recently The Guardian published a series of articles focusing on the ‘mental health crisis’ currently encompassing higher education – which considers the mental health of both students and academics.

Having dealt with ongoing mental illness both as a student and now as a member of staff within my institution I feel comfortable and confident in the support I have received. And I feel comfortable and confident in encouraging students to use our support services – I have access to my own support networks – but I wonder, does more need to be done to protect the mental health of staff within higher education? And I don’t just mean academics, I mean support staff. Not all staff are like me – I have a fantastic support network, and most importantly – I feel comfortable and able to speak openly and honestly about my mental health, but for others this may not be the case.