Coping at University – how do you support student wellbeing?

In this guest article, Tilda Fraser, President of the University of Plymouth Students’ Union, discusses what they’re doing to support student wellbeing on University Mental Health Day.  

There are lots of assumptions about why student mental health issues are on the rise, from calling students ‘too sensitive’ to blaming overworked academics for not being supportive enough – the truth is that being a student (or an academic) is tough.  Everyone has their own unique circumstances which contribute to how they cope at University.

These days students are juggling deadlines with part-time jobs. On top of this they attempt to cook, clean, and care for themselves in chaotic shared houses, all whilst desperately trying to maintain that ‘sparkly’ social life they were promised at University.

Whether students’ have existing mental health problems or not, this balancing act can sometimes be too much.

This was my reality for four years too – achieving my degree whilst living with anxiety and depression. Despite all this, University was an incredible experience for me, and the Students’ Union played a vital role in keeping me happy, healthy and satisfied with student life.

Since graduating I’ve worked for two years at UPSU, running campaigns and championing the student voice as Vice President Welfare & Diversity, and currently as SU President.

On University Mental Health Day I wanted to reflect on all the amazing opportunities and services the Students’ Union provide, which support student wellbeing and make life that little bit easier for students who feel stretched.

Four ways to support students during University Mental Health Day

  1. Advice

When students are stressed about living in a not-so-nice shared house or are disappointed by an unfair academic decision, it can be difficult for them to understand their rights and know what help is available.

What lots of students don’t realise is that they can get free, impartial and confidential advice in their Students’ Union. Trained advisors can remove some of the stress from student life by supporting them with issues like housing, benefits, student finance, academic decisions, harassment and so much more.

Lots of the underlying stressors that can harm the wellbeing of students can be alleviated by speaking to the Advice Center.

  1. Find your Uni family

Coming to University isn’t just about getting a degree, it’s about growing as a person, trying new things and making lifelong friends.

Yet so many students experience loneliness and isolation whilst at University, which can impact their mental health and even lead to interrupting their studies.

Opening yourself up to new experiences whilst coping with the challenges of being a student feels easier when you’ve found your ‘Uni Family’. Whether you join a society, sports club or become a volunteer, there is a community for every student in the SU.

Societies, sports and volunteering opportunities allow students to explore specific interests and find people who share the same values, hobbies and passions as them – no matter how niche.

As an SU we recognize how important community can be for a student’s health and happiness, which is why we support hundreds of student groups and work with dozens of community partners, to give students the chance to find their ‘Uni Family’.

  1. Be Active, Reduce Stress (B.A.R.S)

The Students’ Union works closely with the University wellbeing services to give more opportunities for students to support their wellbeing.

An example of this is the ‘B.A.R.S project’, which offers students access to eight weeks of free physical activity in group classes, as well as a student ‘buddy’ to mentor them.

Students with low-level mental health such as stress, anxiety or depression can be referred to the project by a mental health professional or their personal tutor.

In a sector where counselling services are pushed to their limits and waiting lists can span weeks, this project gives students the unique opportunity to take their health into their own hands (with plenty of peer support along the way).

Participating in the ‘B.A.R.S project’ has been transformative for the students involved, giving them confidence and skills, which empower them to care for themselves and continue their studies. And the students who volunteer as ‘buddies’ leave knowing they’ve improved someone else’s University experience. If you needed more evidence of the power of peer-support, some of the referred students even go on to become ‘buddies’ for new referrals!

  1. Wellbeing advocates

No one knows student wellbeing better than the students themselves, which is why our Vice-President of Sport developed the ‘wellbeing advocates’ in sports teams.

Wellbeing advocates are student volunteers who are part of their sports club committees, they are instantly recognisable by the members of their team as a point of contact for anything wellbeing related.

Drawing on guidance from Student Minds ‘Look After Your Mate’ training and working with University wellbeing services, the Wellbeing Advocates are trained to be empathetic listeners and can signpost students to appropriate support services.

The trial has been so successful that we are looking at improving and expanding it to other student groups in the future.

It’s small but powerful acts, like educating yourself on mental health services and listening without judgement, which can turn anyone – even you – into a wellbeing advocate in your daily life!