When Meg Zeenat Wamithi moved away from home to study at King’s College London, she found the transition to be more difficult than she initially anticipated. She struggled to settle in, due to her history of anxiety and depression, and had difficulties coping with the stress of attending lectures. Wamithi felt isolated and didn’t know where to turn to for help at such a large university campus. As a result, Wamithi established the My Mind Matters Too campaign group, aimed at improving student support.
Although some universities provide counselling services, the government has recently made student mental health a top priority, with one in four students accessing these services. Higher education minister Sam Gyimah has stated that if universities do not work to improve the mental wellbeing of their students, the government will enforce it. Gyimah suggests that universities should act as "stand-in parents" to their students, prompting debate among university leaders. Some believe that 18-year-old students are adults and shouldn’t need extra parenting, and that students should be more resilient during university. However, others suggest that more awareness of mental health problems and support systems is required to improve student wellbeing.
Gyimah suggests that universities gain permission from students at enrolment to contact parents or a trusted person in the event of a mental health crisis. Bristol University has already implemented this system with 94% of students agreeing to mental health alerts being sent to their parents. The University of West of England, Bristol, has gone further, training security staff and receptionists to recognise and support students with mental health issues. Nonetheless, given the number of students who enrol each year, universities may still struggle to know the needs of every student who joins.
As stated by Dominique Thompson, who works as a clinical advisor for Student Minds – a mental health charity organization – and was previously a GP for a university, students often choose not to reveal their past mental health troubles as they desire a new beginning. Although this decision is understandable, it imposes significant difficulties for universities and their GPs.
Moreover, Thompson explains that most students who end their lives are not availing themselves of counseling services at the time of their death. Instead of merely emphasizing counseling support, she stresses that it is vital for universities to scrutinize why such individuals didn’t seek help earlier and establish ways to aid them in doing so.