The first episode of Tech to Transform of 2024, focused on student mental health. Today’s students are facing a unique set of challenges. The COVID legacy and the cost-of-living crisis have added to the traditional pressures a student might face during their time at university. But the sector is responding, and there are some fantastic digital tools out there providing extra support. So, what can we expect to see develop further over the coming months?
We spoke to Aphrael Spindloe, Content Manager at Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, to find out more about the support that’s available for both students and universities, and how tech can play an all-important part in the mental health agenda.
Podcast host, Rebecca Paddick: Student mental health is something that is never far from the headlines. We see and hear a lot about it, particularly in recent years as higher education has changed enormously. So, to put that into context, let’s talk about the current situation.
Aphrael: So, one in four students report having a current diagnosed mental health issue, and more are self-diagnosing with a mental health condition. Unfortunately, we’re seeing this increase rather than decrease, which is why it’s really important that the sector is talking about mental health.
Rebecca: Can we also explore the potential causes or factors?There’s still changes that were made during the pandemic that have seemingly become irreversible, or certainly long lasting, would you agree?
Aphrael: Yes, especially the way that students are learning now. It’s a lot more hybrid than it was before. But also, they’re now having to manage the cost of living; some of them are living from home and are having to commute. Some students are juggling part time jobs because maintenance loans have not increased.
Rebecca: Could you talk about some of the most recent initiatives that you’ve been working on at Student Minds?
Aphrael: Yes, the main one would be the Student Mental Health Charter, which is about encouraging a whole university approach to student mental health and wellbeing. What I mean by this is that rather than having student mental health as one part of university, it’s looking at the whole community and how different things have an impact. We look at staff wellbeing as well as student wellbeing because we know that statistically the factors, we mentioned above can have an impact on both groups. We also look at ways that positive mental health is being seen and how those initiatives can be woven into other areas of the university community.
We make sure to acknowledge that universities are so diverse, there isn’t one type of university, so we’re always working to see what they have already implemented and find ways to make sure that that’s used across the community. It’s all about making sure that mental health is at the forefront of everything that a university does, rather just one part of its strategy.
Rebecca: As you know, Mantis works with some amazing tech providers in the HE space, and we know there is technology available out there that universities have been using to enhance student support. What’s your take on things like different digital systems that institutions could use to help support them with mental health strategies?
Aphrael: I think that it can be really, really useful when done in the right way. The generation currently at university are digitally native. They expect universities to have technology in place to support them so that they can study and learn in a way that benefits them. So it’s important for universities to be able to keep up with that. Alternatively, it’s also important that it’s done in a cohesive way. That it’s not just focused on the technology, but that the tool is used to support what’s already in place, such as the student support services.
There always needs to be a human experience to any support that’s being put in place. So as much as data can be really useful for looking at those warning signs and identifying students in need of support, it then has to be implemented in a way that goes to a human who can then have those conversations.
Rebecca: What does Student Minds have planned for this year?
Aphrael: This year, Student Minds is supporting the sector through several initiatives:
- Student Space provides a range of trusted information, tools, and services to help with the uncertainty of student life.
- The Student Minds Hub is a place where you can find community, engage with training, and resources, and find out how your university can put student mental health first.
- #UniMentalHealthDay On the 14th March, the nation will get talking about student mental health and work together to make mental health a university-wide priority. No matter who you are, you can take part in this day.
- University Mental Health Manifesto– sign up to Student Minds’ national newsletter to stay up to date with progress of the manifesto.
Listen to the full episode here.