Why Student Mental Health Needs More Emphasis – Conservative Article
Will we see one-way systems across UK university campuses? May some even implement compulsory COVID or temperature testing? Depending on where you are or hoping to study you may or may not have the answers. The nature of life with COVID means a lack of predictability – the situation now, in September, may be vastly different than anything we are used to.
The University of Exeter announced to students that they would be handing out face coverings. It appears that these will be compulsory to wear on campus. They are also distributing personal digital thermometers so that students and faculty can take responsibility for the safety of others and themselves.
At POI we recently had an article about the divisive issue of making masks compulsory. Just like the protestations over national rules on wearing masks, there will be those who disagree on campus. Whose job would it be to enforce precautionary COVID measures put in place? I believe it is these questions that highlight the uncertainty such issues cause.
Students will be faced with many uncertainties come the start of term. It would be inconsiderate for universities not to appreciate that there will be more of an impact on new campus members compared to those with one or more years under their belts. First-year undergraduates, ‘freshers’, may only have visited a campus once or twice, if that (9% no open days, 16% one open day). They will have lots of questions while at the same time being given lots of information to digest from their confirmed places.
I am a second-year and can vouch for the volume of emails I have received. It is draining reading large blocks of text every time an email comes through. A few key points sent out weekly would be far less overwhelming.
I would be worried if universities did not understand that not everyone will feel the same when faced with measures. Some may cope well and others poorly. There is an abundance of resources from charities such as Student Mind, but also UCAS. Attention should be drawn to these sites more explicitly. I would also hope emails and other information is personalised to specific year groups.
When thinking and talking about mental health, people may each hold slightly different conceptions. In spite of this, a university is a place where many try to work out the sort of adult they want to be. They want to decide what interests to continue and what sort of friends they want. All these experiences will no doubt be impacted by the virus. For that reason, it would be worrisome if there wasn’t an appreciation for the added care and consideration that freshers need.
Both socially and academically, things will not be as they expected. Some people may not feel at ease socialising virtually or learning online and prefer in-person interactions. When this isn’t possible, issues will arise.
People may have spent a summer isolating from friends, even family. Socialising may still be a ‘daunting prospect’ for some. These people may want to ‘start slow’ and go from there as they adjust. This is something universities should appreciate when students reach out for support; be it extra-time, extensions or of some other nature. It is not always difficult to get that extra support, but the resources need to be easy to access and use.
I hope that this illuminates an issue that I think should be more clearly addressed both by the government, whose advice appeared somewhat basic and poorly presented, and universities.
In response to this article, I want to hear my colleagues’ thoughts on whether universities and indeed our government are doing enough. Many at POI are at different stages in their education which I hope makes for a range when reading this. Has enough be said about what preparations are being considered and implemented? I do not think we have heard enough.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Joshua Tyrrell
Point of Information
Mental health is just as important as physical health – A Liberal Response
Joshua’s article highlights a really important issue. The mental health fallout from this pandemic is going to be huge, especially among students who are in a really important period of their life. While safeguarding their physical health is critical at this time, looking after their mental wellbeing is just as important to ensure young people succeed in higher education.
I agree with Joshua that the government and universities need to be clearer about what preparations are being implemented come September. Providing a few basic leaflets on how to look after young people’s mental wellbeing is not enough. We need clear guidelines to reduce uncertainty rather than wishy-washy statements that only contribute to anxiety. So, I thought I would add a few suggestions of what I think needs to be done.
We need clear, easy-to-access, and timely communication. Universities must work with their student communities to understand what questions people want answering and to ensure that their communications are relevant, appropriate, and accessible. But, as Joshua says, this shouldn’t be done by bombarding students with essay-style emails. Instead, the information should be clear, precise and to the point.
We need adapted delivery of mental health and wellbeing support. This includes moving face-to-face services online, expanding existing digital or phone services or procuring new ones. Although these changes need to be implemented quickly, it’s crucial universities maintain the quality of their support. There’s a wealth of resources out there, take Samaritans and Heads Together for example. Universities must effectively utilise these services to best help their students.
We need support for bereaved students. There will be students who have lost family members or friends during this period. Universities need to be ready for this by ensuring their bereavement policies are up-to-date and capable of responding to these exceptional circumstances.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. Universities and the government need to understand this and be more proactive in addressing the pending crisis.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Libby Gilbert
Now is the time to take mental health seriously – A Labour Response
Both Joshua and Libby raise some excellent points here, and it’s encouraging to see this as a cause in which those from across the political spectrum can unite behind.
The transition between home and university can be trying at the best of times. I, for one, struggle with mental health issues, and have found the moving and resettling each September consistently challenging.
I can only feel for the incoming first-years starting their university career during such alienating circumstances. Although the word “unprecedented” has become horrifically cliche, it cannot be denied that those beginning their degrees in the year 2020 will have a totally unique experience. It is up to the universities themselves to ensure that no-one is left behind.
Balancing the physical safety and the social/mental needs of thousands of new undergraduates is by no means an easy feat, but I am sure that with adequate funding allocations it can be achieved. Libby’s suggestion of bringing face-to-face services online seems extremely pertinent, and an increasingly vigilant and outreaching well-being system is essential.
I also agree with the call for improved communication. As a student in Exeter, I find the near-daily dump of dense, exhaustive emails difficult to keep up with. A less frequent, more concise summary would be far more accessible to the student body as a whole.
With such a tangible physical threat dominating everyday life, mental well-being can easily slip into the background. The reality is that the two go hand in hand, and universities, including Exeter, must step up their lacklustre approach to mental health. Now is the time to take it seriously.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Max Ingleby