Higher education – an operating model to support mental health and wellbeing

Recent tragic cases such as the 12 students who died by suicide at the University of Bristol have bought a renewed focus onto student mental health. Following these highly publicised cases, fellow students and families of those affected are damning in their verdict of what the university did – or did not do – to support the students.

Student numbers in the UK are rising and, at the same time, young people in higher education are increasingly seeking treatment for mental health conditions. This can have devastating effects, with students dropping out or, in the worst cases, harming themselves or ending their lives. The support available to a given student will vary depending on the university, the course, even the time of year. Now is the time for universities to take action, so how can they change their operating model to improve mental health support and student wellbeing?

The solution:

Under common law universities have a duty of care towards their students in that they must act reasonably to protect their health, safety and welfare. But in reality, there are no specific requirements to adhere to or steps that an academic or member of staff must take, and here students can fall between the gaps. 

At a national level, a framework should be agreed and adopted to ensure a consistent standard of support, which could build on Student Minds’ “University Mental Health Charter”. This would promote continuous improvement of the standards universities adhere to, as well as a culture of learning and sharing experience. It could also give universities the opportunity to trial initiatives in order to gather data on what measures are most effective. Importantly, it would also signal to future students, particularly those already affected, what support is available and help inform their choice of university. 

At a local level, universities would then establish what works for them to optimise and customise their response to any mental health incident. This includes:

  • Ensuring that a mental health and wellbeing strategy is in place, covering elements such as staff engagement and the design of course content to ensure a consistent approach
  • The development of robust underlying policies and processes, so that staff know what processes to follow to improve students’ pathways to mental health care 
  • Increased provision of university and campus support services, better links to the NHS, as well as alternative provisions (e.g. mental health first aiders, helplines and peer-to-peer support – for example, the University of Wolverhampton is training members of staff who regularly come in contact with students, such as cleaners and security guards, to recognise early warning signs)
  • Student Minds encourages universities to co-produce their mental health strategies with students: including students with lived experience of mental health difficulties who are experts by experience, in order to identify the full range of work necessary to improve mental health and wellbeing

Equally, it’s important that universities also continue to support all students’ overall wellbeing. This could include promoting a greater sense of community and inclusion to reduce loneliness, offering support and resources in areas such as managing finances, accommodation, etc., and making wellbeing a key consideration in the way courses are designed. 

Moorhouse has a strong track record in both the public sector and the health & wellbeing space. If you would like to discuss any of the points raised here or speak to us about how we can help solve your challenges in these areas, then please send an email to info@moorhouseconsulting.com 

Media Enquiries
For more information please email info@moorhouseconsulting.com


Clare Robinson Junior Consultant