Rightly much attention is currently being paid to the issue of mental health on campuses with many new policies and initiatives, both nationally and locally. Students’ unions are keen to play their part and do all they can to contribute to members’ wellbeing and yet when it comes to practical actions many unions find themselves under resourced to meet the often complex challenges of mental health. Amongst the plethora of new policies and initiatives it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that students’ unions at their best are the hub of the university campus providing fantastic opportunities for students from all backgrounds and disciplines to socialise, relax, talk, meet new people and try new things.
“It’s a great hub for students to meet, talk and socialise. I think the Students’ Union building is the heart of the campus.”
In our ‘Being well, doing well’ study, based on a survey of over 12,000 students, more than half (55%) of respondents with mental health problems say their ability to socialise is significantly negatively impacted, while 88% report a negative impact on relationships with friends, 74% on relationships with housemates and family, and 74% on their sex life.
Further evidence from Student Life Pulse
Only 61% of the over 19,000 students who took part in Student Life Pulse (SLP) last year said they were getting the social experience they want from university. Some of the biggest gaps in satisfaction between those who are happy with their social experience and those that are not relate to meeting new people and making new friends. As might be expected, levels of satisfaction are lower amongst some student demographics including postgraduate students and distance learners.
These findings remind us of the impact students’ unions can have in proactively tackling mental health and wellbeing through their role in facilitating connections and providing spaces, experiences and opportunities that bring students together. They also remind us of the challenges of offering a wide range of events and activities that can appeal to a diverse population, in ways that are inclusive and accessible.
Student wellbeing is one of the four key areas of student life that we investigate and track with our Student Life Pulse clients. Only just over a third of students in our study report that their union has a positive impact on their wellbeing. Whilst a positive start, there is room to grow impact in this area. Interestingly, amongst those who state that their union has a positive impact on wellbeing, overall union satisfaction rises from 48% to 81%.
So, alongside efforts to increase the provision of support, advice and counselling available to students, perhaps there are also opportunities to continue to focus university funding, via the union, on the proactive impact on wellbeing that social activities can have: funding for student groups and societies, the provision of non-commercial spaces on campus for students to come together, increasing the range of events and activities on offer beyond the curriculum.
In continuing to support students’ unions who wish to continue to influence student wellbeing, we plan to further build on the evidence gathered to date and are re-running our ‘Being well, doing well’ project in 20/21. We believe that the better unions understand student wellbeing, in all its nuances, the greater their impact will be.
Unions who did not take part in our previous study are invited to generate new local evidence to help them respond strategically to the issue whilst those unions from the original project will be able to track and monitor change on their campus.
Find out more about how to join the latest project here.