Today is University Mental Health Day, and appropriately the theme this year is “Use Your Voice”. So much of the conversation around Mental Health for the last few years has focussed on “raising awareness” through discussion. Anyone who has participated in this discussion is aware of the mental health problems facing students not just today, but every other day of the year. The theme this year must urge us to take that next step forward, beyond holding a discussion and towards harnessing our collective voice, to challenge our universities to account over their lack of mental health support. This is a chance to organise.
Universities no longer have the excuse of a lack of awareness of the mental health crisis among the student population. They have been made aware, they have been told to step up, and they have been told to take responsibility.
NUS is currently supporting the development of the University Mental Health Charter, led by Student Minds. If you would like more information on how you can get involved or participate in their research, visit their website here.
Since last year’s University Mental Health Day, many universities throughout the sector have responded positively to the guidance released by the Office for Students around mental health. Many universities have, as suggested, made it an institutional priority. However, too many universities namecheck student volunteer-led groups that are active on their campuses as indicators of their own work to improve student mental health. At the same time, high demand for campus mental health services far outweighs the funding allocated to them. Universities are being allowed to avoid taking due responsibility for their own failures over mental health provision by pointing to student groups that have largely formed in response to that very crisis, which then further avoiding fully funding key services in this area.
We must demand fully funded provision from our institutions, and it should be accessible for all students. We need institutions to provide culturally competent counselling.
This University Mental Health Day we must make sure it’s not ‘just a day’. We should not let the idea of the Student Voice be used as a platitude. Our University Mental Health crisis will not be solved by a quick chat in a puppy room. Let us not be placated by our Universities, many of whose events on this day consist of tea, cake, and chat about the most palatable aspects of mental health, whilst turning around the next day and continuing to underfund (or even de- fund) our much-needed university mental health support services. There are clear and systemic problems in Mental Health provision at universities, and we must organise and use our collective voice on our campuses to hold our universities to account.
You can find resources that outline the basics of organising a campaign around the issues raised here on the University Mental Health Day Website. Mental health is a key area of work for NUS and students’ unions – from making the case for greater investment in your institution’s mental health services to mental health first aid training, to better support your students.
We have a range of resources available to support you in your work around mental health so visit our welfare zone now and look at what’s available to help you in your quest.