What UK universities are doing for Mental Health Awareness Week
In light of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, universities are holding a number of events and workshops. Source: Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash

Mental illness is serious and should be treated like any physical impairment. Students should not feel ashamed or afraid to seek professional help when they’re struggling with personal issues.

The stress and anxiety of exam season, which coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, can make it more challenging for students who already suffer from mental illness, affecting not only their academic standing but also their well-being.

Universities have stepped up their game in recent years when it comes to tackling mental health, offering more stress-relieving events and resources for students, due to alarmingly high rates of suicide and mental health issues among young people in the country.

Many are actively encouraging students to visit an on-campus counsellor if they feel anxious, depressed, stressed, overwhelmed, or experiencing other symptoms of poor mental health.

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Body Image’, after the Mental Health Foundation conducted a survey in March and found that one in eight (13 percent) out of 4,505 adults polled had considered taking their own lives due to body image concerns.

Here are some ways UK universities are spreading awareness and providing support to students and staff during #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.

Mental health First Aid training

It can be immensely difficult for students with mental health problems to come forward and seek help if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.

That’s why people are often urged to look out for others and take action if a friend or acquaintance seems withdrawn, depressed or showing other signs of mental illness.

Similarly, staff and faculty should be trained in how to identify and support students who are struggling mentally.

Brunel University recently revealed research findings that show how big a role sports coaches play in student well-being.

The report’s publication coincides with the launch of national sports charity organisation StreetGames’s #21by21 campaign, which aims to provide 21,000 UK sports coaches and volunteers with mental health training by 2021.

According to StreetGames.org, “Sport, when delivered in the right way, can have a marked positive impact on young people’s confidence, self-esteem and resilience – all powerful protective factors for their personal well-being. A coach who is ‘mental health aware’ can therefore do a great deal to maintain young people’s positive energy, even before stepping in to assist those who are struggling the most.”

Louise Mansfield, Professor of Sport, Health and Social Sciences at Brunel, said, “Our research shows that the well-being of some of Britain’s most disadvantaged young people can be significantly improved by training their community sports coaches in mental health awareness.”

Special events

Mental Health Awareness Week is a good time to organise workshops and special activities to teach students about mental illness and how to help their friends.

At Loughborough University, a number of events are going on from May 13 to 19, striving to improve student well-being.

These include Yoga and Mindfulness sessions, Self-Esteem workshops, Positive Thinking workshops, and a Meditation session, among other things.

St. Antony’s College, a constituent of the University of Oxford in England, has also organised a full week of events in line with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, constructed around the theme ‘The Habit of Mental Health.’

All events will take place in a ‘mindfulness yurt’ – a comfortable spot where students can also relax during the week.

The college welfare team will also host a number of workshops on anxiety and depression, as well as a workshop by a counselling psychologist at Oxford, Dr Timothy Knowlson, which will be on how to support your friends.

Other events include a visit by Buddhist lama Aria Drolma, a comedy performance by Jericho Comedy, and Ceilidh and Bollywood workshops.

Nainika Dinesh, the college’s Graduate Common Room president, said, “The main driving force of the week for us was to just be able to have conversations about mental health and create a space where people can come together and talk. Oxford can be an intense place, and events like this help take some pressure off and let us have fun while hopefully having some productive discussions!”

At Cardiff University, the Student Support Services department are currently unable to cope with the high demand of students seeking one-to-one appointments, but they are still committed to serving students during Mental Health Awareness Week.

According to The Tab, “Cardiff University Student’s Union’s President Fadhila A. Al Dhahouri posted on Facebook that student support services will not take on students until 17th June because of an “unprecedented 25% increase in the number of students requesting ‘crisis support’ through the services”.

“Student support have told other students not registered with the service that they are offering group workshops on exam stress, can use their self-help resources, or attend 15-minute drop-in appointments where they will be given resources or signposted to other support. The Sabbatical Officers will also be giving away free tea and coffee during the exam period.”

These are just some of the ways universities can leverage on the publicity surrounding Mental Health Awareness Week to encourage students to receive help, educating them on mental health and reducing social stigma.

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