Research published today by mental health charity Student Minds reveals that academics believe responding to student mental health issues is now an inevitable part of their role. Their report, Student Mental Health: The Role and Experiences of Academics, is based on interviews with 52 academics from diverse backgrounds across five universities. It provides insights into staff experiences supporting students, describing academics as an 'invisible frontline', and warning that the higher education sector does not currently have the appropriate structures to assist staff when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.

Commenting on the publication, Rosie Tressler, CEO of Student Minds, said, “This research is the first study to really get to grips with the role of academics within student mental health - both the positives and the challenges of this. Evidently academics are a vital but often unrecognised part of the support available to students at universities. Students will reach out to whoever they feel comfortable with, so in order to ensure that students get quick access to support, institutions must support academics to be mental health literate and have roles with clear boundaries, whilst improving collaboration between academia and student services. This must be backed on a strategic level through a whole university approach to student mental health and wellbeing.”

Student Minds is now encouraging universities to recognise the benefits of providing additional support to students and academic departments around mental health, and is advocating for more collaborative relationships to be built between academics and Student Services. To this end, the report lists 12 key recommendations highlighting the need for improvements in training, resourcing, defining the role of the academic, and collaboration and communication between different stakeholders.

Caroline Hounsell, Director and Youth Lead, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, commented, “Today’s report reveals that more and more academics are put in positions where they are on the frontline supporting young people with mental health issues. It’s therefore crucial that universities recognise the need to upskill staff to support students as that first point of contact. This research also highlights the impact this can have on academics’ mental health, which tells us that more needs to be done to support the whole community’s wellbeing.”

“Higher Education Mental Health First Aid is a powerful training tool that many universities are already using to give their staff and students a skills-based framework to facilitate signposting and open discussion around mental health issues, as well as education around supporting personal wellbeing. Mental Health First Aid is empowering for anyone working alongside young people, and it’s something I believe is an integral component of an effective ‘whole organisation’ approach to mental health, whether in schools, colleges or universities.”  

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