The incoming Director of Representation, Teddy Woodhouse, will pursue a series of initiatives to tackle mental health issues at St Andrews. The announcement comes as the National Union of Students released figures that show the extent of the problem at universities across the UK.
Of 1,200 higher education students surveyed across the UK, 20 per cent consider themselves to have a mental health problem, while 13 per cent have suicidal thoughts.
The survey also revealed that 92 per cent of respondents identified as having had feeling of mental distress, which often included feeling down, stressed and demotivated. On average, respondents who experienced feelings of mental distress experienced them once a month or more (74 per cent), and almost one third suffered mental distress every week.
The main causes of the distress were found to be coursework for 65 per cent of respondents while exams and study were a cause for over half (54 per cent), with almost as many citing financial difficulty (47 per cent).
Woodhouse commented: “These statistics show that our ideas on promoting positive student mental health aren’t just a side project in addition to the rest of our work: every student has a stake in this issue. We all have mental health, and we can all afford to do a little more talking about it.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: “This new research demonstrates the scale of mental health problems among students. We are particularly concerned that more than 1 in 10 students surveyed had experienced suicidal thoughts during the time they’ve spent at their current place of study. Despite the high prevalence of mental health problems and stress among students, many people are not seeking help, perhaps because of the stigma that can surround mental health problems.”
He continued: “Higher education institutions need to ensure not just that services are in place to support mental well-being, but that they proactively create a culture of openness where students feel able to talk about their mental health and are aware of the support that’s available. Opening up to friends and family can help those feeling stressed or anxious, but anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or consistently feeling down may have an enduring mental health problem, so it’s best they visit their GP. Nobody should suffer alone.”
The incoming sabbatical team have publicised their concern for mental health issues and it was one of Woodhouse’s main policies during his election campaign. He explained that they plan to push for change within the Students’ Association and the University in the coming year. He said: “Mental health is a priority for this year’s sabb team. 3/4 of us signed SRSH’s pledge on mental health and See Me Scotland’s pledge to end the stigma around mental health.
Some of the specific targets we have in the Students’ Association on student mental health are: signing the See Me Scotland pledge; pressuring the University to do the same; working with schools to improve signposting for students with mental health problems that may affect their studies; using more of the Students’ Association’s resources to promote positive student mental health, especially during exam periods; launching the ChangeCamp on Student Welfare; creating a Welfare Subcommittee within the Association and a new SRC Welfare Officer position; adding active listening training for School Presidents; and continuing to bring in as many puppies as possible.”