Mental health takeover: UEA launches ‘stepped care’ approach to student mental health and wellbeing
- Credit: Courtesy of the UEA.
Some anxiety is part of student life, says Dr Jon Sharp, director of student services, University of East Anglia, but it is important to support those who experience mental ill health.
While many students enjoy the time of their lives at university, increasing numbers are struggling with mental health issues in what's sometimes been described as a 'crisis'.
There's strong evidence that undergraduates experience lower wellbeing than the population in general and it's certainly true that, here at UEA, we're seeing more students joining us with pre-existing mental health conditions and rising numbers are developing issues during their studies.
This, along with the broad range of conditions they're presenting with, has increased demand for our services. As a result, we're launching a new 'stepped care' approach from the 2017/18 academic year to ensure we'll continue to offer appropriate support to every student who needs it.
It's important to note that there's a clear difference between experiencing shifts in our mental wellbeing – which applies to us all - and having a mental health condition. We prioritise both, not just because wellbeing is closely linked with strong academic performance, but because we want our students to thrive during their time with us.
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Some anxiety is part of student life – living independently, academic pressures and forming new social connections for example – and can affect students' sense of wellbeing and ability to cope. Our aim is to help students understand that this is entirely normal and enable them to develop their resilience and self-reliance with self-assessment tools and peer support groups.
Avoiding loneliness is also vital, so we encourage students to participate in social and sporting activities and are working with the Students' Union to create more links with the wider Norwich community.
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The Students' Union is a key partner in developing and delivering this approach and, led by Welfare, Community and Diversity Officer India Edwards, focus on peer support, buddying schemes and friendships to ensure that students have a strong support network to turn to whenever they need it.
Where students have more serious conditions, we offer a higher level of support, including online, group or one-to-one counselling, and referrals to appropriate external providers.
Removing the stigma that still prevents many people from seeking support is also a priority, so we work hard to show students that it's OK to ask for help and to support academic staff in recognising when a student might be struggling.
• For more from the EDP's special mental health takeover edition, click here.