To mark the start of the Mental Health Awareness Week, Universities UK (UUK) is setting out an improved approach to mental health and wellbeing. During a time when people are adapting to their new routines while working or studying remotely, mental health is crucial. The representative organization for UK universities has decided to publish a new version of its strategic framework on mental health, called Stepchange: Mentally Healthy Universities.
Mental health and wellbeing should be part of every practice, policy, course, or culture at university, according to the new framework. It should be the centre of attention, especially now, as people are spending more time at home, in an attempt to adjust to the new way of living. Universities should aim to enhance support for both students as well as staff, and make this a matter of priority. Universities should make sure they have resourced support for mental health and wellbeing for their academia.
What UUK and the new framework recommends for universities is leadership and ownership in promoting conversations and sustaining change regarding mental health and wellbeing. It suggests that universities should work with staff and students in order to ensure that different strategies and services can be developed. Mental health should be included in staff performance discussions and line managers and supervisors should receive appropriate training, in order to help clarify the importance of academic staff in the matter.
Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK, spoke about the subject, saying:
“At this difficult and unprecedented time, during which universities have moved all of their student support provision online as well as supporting those students still living at university, we are releasing this framework because the top priority for all universities remains the safety, health and wellbeing of the entire university community.”
“Universities must be healthy spaces. By taking a whole university approach to mental health and working more closely with the health and care system, universities have the ability to change the lives of students, staff and communities.”
Mental health and wellbeing are crucial and they should be protected as so. Universities should understand that a continuous effort is necessary in order to ensure that the needs of students and staff will be met, now and in the future. The whole university approach introduced by UUK aims to transform the university into a place where students can feel secure and supported. This should be done with the help of local and national partnerships. This also includes cooperation with parents, schools, colleges, and employers.
Students, both domestic and international, have been going through a challenging period of time ever since the coronavirus outbreak in the UK. While many of them have returned to their home countries to be with their families, there are students who have remained in their UK accommodation, while facing the issue of job losses, paying rent, and trying to keep safe from the virus. (See: Coronavirus: International Students FAQ in the UK).
Although universities in the UK have done a great job of switching to online classes, the transition has not been easy for everyone. Authorities and health officials, as well as respective universities, have been constantly advising everyone to take care of their mental health, as well as their physical health, during the pandemic. University staff is also trying to be as supportive as possible, while numerous mental health helplines have been listed on the NHS website.