Student Space on mental health during Covid-19

01 Jul 2021
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room

With 77% of students telling us they’ve struggled with mental health and wellbeing as a result of Covid-19*, it’s clear we need to do more to support the mental health of our student communities, and ensure students have the awareness and confidence to ask for help.

One way we’re helping to raise this awareness and advocate positive change is through our partnership with UK student mental health charity Student Minds, and most recently their latest service - Student Space.

Today we chat with Ben, Programme Manager, about how the pandemic has magnified the challenges so many students already face, as well as how Student Space can support.

 

Hi Ben! Tell us about Student Space and how you’re involved.

Hi, I’m Ben, the Programme Manager for Student Space at Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity. Ever since I was a student myself I’ve been passionate about mental health, recognising from personal experience how difficult it can be if you’re struggling and don’t have access to the right support.

In response to the significant impact of the pandemic on the student population, Student Minds launched Student Space in August 2020 to help students find the support that they need during coronavirus. Since then we’ve been working hard to continue updating the website and responding to the changing needs of students during an incredibly tumultuous period.

The platform works to offer support in three ways:

  1. Providing access to dedicated support services, including tailored support for those groups most impacted by the pandemic.
  2. Sharing information, tools and student stories on navigating life during the pandemic
  3. Providing a directory of support available at universities across England and Wales

Student Space is funded by the Office for Students and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and we’re grateful for their ongoing support.

What do you think the top challenges are for students, both in general and over the past year specifically?

Before the pandemic some of the challenges students faced included financial difficulties, inequalities and discrimination, access to treatment, access to learning and uncertainty about the transition into and out of student life. The arrival of the pandemic and the subsequent impact on in-person teaching, the economy and the availability of support has only increased these challenges for many. It has also created additional challenges for some students, especially for student nurses or those needing to conduct fieldwork for their studies.

What changes would you like to see in the future to better support students?

In line with the University Mental Health Charter, Student Minds advocates for a Whole University Approach to mental health, recognising that all aspects of university life have an impact on mental health and wellbeing. Taking a strategic and integrated approach to addressing mental health within higher-education institutions is key and will produce the best outcomes for our university communities. With the launch of the University Mental Health Charter Programme this year, we hope to see increasing numbers of universities adopting this approach.

Alongside universities themselves, the Government also has a significant role to play in supporting students. The past year in particular has seen financial instability and restrictions as a result of the pandemic being a key driver of student hardship and mental ill health. At Student Minds we’ve been working to understand the depth and scale of the challenges facing students, staff, and our wider universities, as a consequence of the pandemic. This has been a year like no other for students, and soon we will be able to lay out our proposals for what the Government should do to support students, both with regard to their money and their mental health.

Of course, a one-off fix won’t address all the challenges facing students. Ultimately, an increase in funding from the Government and an ongoing commitment from universities to prioritise student mental health is needed for there to be long term improvements.

What misconceptions about mental health do you wish you would put a stop to?

Although there have been significant improvements in attitudes over recent years, there is still some way to go when it comes to tackling the stigma around mental health and making universities places students can thrive at. We all still have work to do to ensure that everyone with a mental health condition gets the support and respect they deserve.

What’s the most rewarding change you’ve seen in attitudes towards mental health?

Increasingly there is a recognition that students from certain groups or backgrounds are more likely to experience poor mental health and that tailored support needs to be put in place for them. For example it’s become clear over the past year that many women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ students and students from working class backgrounds have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with negative consequences on their mental health as a result. In response, at Student Space we have launched a package of tailored support for some of these groups to ensure they get the help that they need.

Is there anything Student Space is unable to support with?

Student Space is designed to complement the existing support available to students through their own universities and the NHS. That’s why it includes a directory of university support services, and our advice and services regularly signpost students to their GP. We’d encourage any student who is struggling to make use of these service providers alongside the support offered through Student Space.

And finally, are there any new resources on the cards for Student Space?

A range of video-based student stories are currently in development, covering a wide range of topics including the experiences of post-graduate students, LGBTQ+ students and medical students. Keep an eye on our Student Stories page for their release.

We are also looking ahead to A-Level results day on the 10th of August, recognising how stressful the day can be for many new starters across the country and preparing students to start or return to the new academic year in Autumn.

Whether it’s your mental health, studies, money, housing or relationships, Student Space is here for whatever challenge you’re facing. Head to the Student Space website and check out their resources, or access one-to-one support through text, phone, email or web chat here.

*Students' mental health hit by Covid-19 - 17 February 2021 | Unite Group (unite-group.co.uk)

f
Enjoyed this article? Give it a like
Staff writer at The Common Room