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Inclusive responses for difficult times - mental health and wellbeing

20 Mar 2020 | Clare Pavitt As universities and colleges focus on reorganising services to respond to the current global health emergency, Principal Adviser for EDI at Advance HE, Clare Pavitt, introduces a series of blogs on what we can do to ensure that the diverse needs of all staff and students in higher education are considered.

Prepare for increased demand on mental health and wellbeing services

It is likely that students and staff will be feeling more anxious during this time. Concerns about their own health, the wellbeing of family and friends, the potential impact on education and employment may take their toll on mental health. Not only the direct threat of pandemic, but the widespread media focus and the measures introduced to tackle the pandemic (including changes to routine, provision of services, supportive relationships and networks, and the challenges of social distancing or relocation) all have potential to increase the demand for counselling and support.

Increased demand may come both from those with pre-existing health conditions or mental health difficulties which might be exacerbated during the current period of strain and uncertainty, as well as those newly seeking or in need of support during this emergency. Higher education institutions can prepare by:

  • reminding students and staff of the importance of registering with a local health care provider and of checking current NHS guidance on accessing health services

  • reminding students and staff of the existing support available to them, how to access it (including any changes in provision), and of any additional services provided in relation to the current global health emergency
  • increasing or adapting capacity where possible. Whether mental health support services are internal or provided by an external organisation, explore how they will respond to increased demand. Consider whether staff who currently act as volunteer advisers in another capacity (Dignity and Respect Advisers, for example) can be recruited to provide additional signposting support, but be clear on remits and availability. Resources such as these from Student Minds may be helpful

  • ensuring that mechanisms are in place to maintain contact with students and staff, are regularly updated in response to changing circumstances, and are designed to identify and respond to students and staff who may drop out of contact
  • ensuring that signposting to information about COVID 19-related restrictions on travel, social activity, employment etc. is up-to-date, accessible and anticipates the needs of particular groups of students and staff

  • anticipating and addressing financial and hardship concerns
  • recognising that staff, particularly those on casual/fixed-term contracts (who are disproportionally more likely in higher education to be women and BAME), may be anxious about job security. Work with trade unions and staff networks to understand levels of concern and provide clear, accessible information

  • working with NUS, student unions, accommodation offices and third party providers to ensure that students remaining in their accommodation have appropriate support during the pandemic. Consider, for example, setting up buddy systems to provide support for students who are self-isolating due to illness or risk of infection
  • working with students to ensure they are prepared and equipped for the move to online learning

As the global health emergency progresses, the challenges that institutions face in meeting the needs of their diverse staff and student communities are likely to become more complex and the responses to those challenges more creative and resourceful.

Advance HE is committed to supporting the sector in these difficult times. Join the conversation on the EDI Practitioners Network on Advance HE Connect

Find out more about our work on Fostering Inclusion.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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