Opinion | The mental health support petition has started an important conversation

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By Lowri Lewis, Opinion Columnist

It seems like those who draw up the University league tables intend to do so with the student experience at the heart of their considerations. But satisfaction with the course and the way it is taught are not the only factors which potential applicants should be aware of.

According to the creator of the petition for mental health support to be included in University league tables, the quality of this support should be taken into consideration, too.

The pandemic has worsened, and drawn attention to, the state of students’ mental health. Over half of us have seen our mental health worsen over this period, and some have consequently turned to Universities for help.

Of those that do, however, only ‘57% are satisfied with how they’ve been supported’. It’s clear that improvements need to be made in this area. But is including this in league tables the right way to go about getting changes made?

It would certainly be a good start - anything which will encourage Universities to invest more of their resources and energy into this can’t be a bad thing. In the unlikely event that it wouldn’t motivate them to make any changes, the information it would give potential applicants would still be invaluable.

Students would be able to make an informed choice about which Uni could best protect their mental wellbeing, rather than simply hoping that some sort of support will be available as we must at the moment.

The transition from sixth form to University can be an immensely challenging time

The transition from sixth form to University can be an immensely challenging time mentally - freshers are thrown into a new environment without any friends around to function as a support network.

The pressure that exams and workloads put us under means that our mental health can suffer further on in our Uni career, too. The importance of mental health support for Uni students cannot be underestimated.

The fact that many of those that turn to their Uni for help aren’t satisfied with the support they receive is therefore a disappointing one. But unfortunately, it’s unlikely that knowledge of this fact in itself will encourage many Universities to improve the help that they provide.

The importance of mental health support for Uni students cannot be underestimated

The stance of the Russell Group on the ‘no detriment’ policy is an example of this reluctance to listen to students’ opinions when it comes to our mental health. The Group has failed to acknowledge that students from every single one of their Universities have stated that a ‘no detriment’ policy is needed when we’re trying to complete our degrees in the middle of a global emergency, for mental health reasons amongst others.

It seems like the opinions of huge numbers of students are only considered by these universities when it’s an opinion about something like ‘satisfaction with the course’ - one which will affect their rating on the league tables.

The creator of the mental health support petition notes that ‘decision makers’ at Universities often don’t consider the extent to which their choices can have an ‘affect [...] on the mental wellbeing of students’. The pandemic has highlighted this fact.

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Whilst the University of Bristol has had a Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy in place since 2019, it’s clear that this will not have anticipated the effect that a pandemic would have on Bristol students’ mental health.

Of course, in such unprecedented circumstances, it must be difficult to make decisions that will work both for students and for Universities themselves. The question is whether those decisions would be different if universities knew that they would be judged on the way that they impacted students’ mental wellbeing.

Over thirty thousand of us have signed the petition for mental health support to be included in University league tables - if they won’t listen to us, we know what Universities will pay attention to.

Featured Image: Epigram / Ellie Brown


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