Supporting student mental health on campus

Jul 28, 2020 | Attraction & marketing

Coronavirus has negatively impacted the mental health of many young people. Rachael Collins, Student Success Manager at the University of Liverpool, took part in ISE’s webinar Help students and graduates improve their mental health and resilience. Here she explains how students are being supported on campus.

According to Student Minds approximately a third of students suffer with psychological distress during their time at university and there has been a significant rise in students seeking out support for mental health issues over the last decade. We have definitely felt the seismic shift here at the University of Liverpool with an increasing number of students accessing our support services.

Our students are faced with many challenges at university that could affect their mental health. There are three distinct periods where this may be heightened:

The transition into university for many students can be both exciting and overwhelming; the realities of university, for some new entrants, may not live up to their expectation and instead of experiencing ‘the best time of their lives’ they end up feeling isolated, lonely and anxious, questioning their worth. We have seen a particular rise in imposter syndrome amongst students, exacerbated in individuals who have overcome barriers to secure a place at university leaving them feeling inadequate and consumed by self-doubt.

Just the act of moving away from home, creating new friendship groups and forging new identities can be daunting and that’s before we mention being academically challenged and financially responsible. A lot of students are new to these responsibilities and struggle with even maintaining a healthy lifestyle; poor nutrition, irregular sleeping patterns and an increase in alcohol can all have adverse effects on a students wellbeing.

Changing lanes can be equally stressful as students enter into their second or third year. This could be due to the rise in perfectionism and the pressure they place upon themselves as academic expectations increase.

It is during these years that they also begin to delve more into their career aspirations and this can sometimes feel frustrating as they find their original ambitions difficult to obtain, unrealistic or not what they expected. Belonging is also still a key challenge. Last year, WONKHE reported that 17% of students do not consider themselves to have any friends at university and over 15% feel lonely on a daily basis.

Entry into the graduate labour market and the fear of failure can also be stressful. Many of our students have breezed through their academic life and the onslaught of career rejection brings shame and guilt.

A recent Prospects research project we conducted in our Career Studio reported that 40% of students experienced heightened anxiety when entering to discuss their career plans. There are so many demands placed on students and the narrative is always changing, whereas once we focused on one graduate role, we now talk about portfolio careers and the need for side hustles. There are technological pressures too, now more than ever, and students are aware they need to manage social platforms and online relationships.

Student Success Team

To combat some of these challenges the University of Liverpool has established a new team. The Student Success team supports students with all aspects of their experience, focusing on transitioning, belonging, wellbeing and success. The team recognises the importance of creating opportunities for students to make connections, navigate their new landscape and feel in control.

Supporting students with their psychological needs is essential to ensure they achieve success. How can we expect students to be confident when entering the job market when they are low on confidence or ace networkers when they feel isolated amongst their own peer groups? To tackle this head on, we focus on innovative projects.

At University of Liverpool there is a huge emphasis on peer-to-peer. We believe empowering students to support one another and share experiences can instil a sense of community that is both inclusive and accessible (not to mention scalable) creating a clear path to progress.

We have created a number of roles, including Career Coaches and Digital Coaches. and this year we have recruited more Peer Mentors than ever before to sit alongside Academic Advisors and Student Experience teams as part of our ‘Road to Success’. This framework has been developed to provide greater clarity to students about who can help. An essential part of this framework is the fourth pillar – the student in the ‘driving seat’ responsible for their own success and failures.

In addition to the usual blogs, vlogs and 1-2-1s we have introduced Mental Strength sessions. In collaboration with colleagues across the institution, Peer Mentors have created sessions focused on developing resilience, grit and encouraging students to adopt a growth mindset. This year we developed sessions on topics that students felt most anxious about such as time management, organising their time or failing successfully. In the run up to graduation, we ran workshops on dealing with difficult conversations and generational differences in the workplace, ensuring that expectations are challenged prior to starting work.

Peer Mentors also play a central role in our ongoing Liverpool Welcome, which connects students with peers and the wider city, taking part in worldwide events and festivals that starve off feelings of homesickness. This enhances their feeling of belonging and their affinity to the university. To ensure no student loses their way along this unpredictable path, we will work together as a whole community, and overcome any challenges we face at the University of Liverpool.

Watch ISE webinar: Help students and graduates improve their mental health and resilience

Was this article helpful?


Share This