Mental Health in Student Accommodation

Unipol Student Homes

The UK Student Accommodation Forum- Mental Health in Student Accommodation

Thursday 11th March, 11 AM-12:30 PM

A conversation on current trends in the Student Accommodation industry - brought to you by Unipol.

Guest Speakers: Chris Tucker (Director Residence Life, University of Edinburgh), Andy Shanks (Director of Student Wellbeing, University of Edinburgh), Jenny Smith (Policy Manager, Student Minds)


Chris Tucker

  • Issues that we face in supporting staff and students are closely intertwined
  • It is important to ensure that staff aren’t dealing with complex case loads alone, and are supported by networks of staff and specialist help – collective decision making is key
  • Mental health is something we all could and can face – we all have varying levels of resilience and abilty to cope
  • Many external and internal factors which influence our ability to cope with these stressors
  • Residence staff have found themselves holding huge amounts of responsibility without training
  • Staff are encouraged to check on their own wellbeing before performing a welfare check with a student – do they feel able to support someone else
  • It’s ensured that staff are aware of the processes in place, and how the escalating and reporting processes work. This is supported by sound knowledge of the key contacts available for certain issues, which is especially useful if a student is in crisis
  • Staff are supported to work within their role and ability, and to always set clear boundaries with students as to what they can and cannot help with – it is okay for staff to walk away from a difficult situation
  • Many general interactions with students now turn into welfare checks
  • All interventions are non-clinical – we are not the NHS
  • Stopped asking staff and students if they’re just okay – asked if they’re sleeping and eating well, how is their daily routine etc

Andy Shanks

  • Reslife moved under the wellbeing team – integrated support for students model
  • There is a wide nature of the support provided to students for those who have concerns over their mental health and wellbeing –
  • Supporting students during the pandemic has led to a move to a hybrid model to increase accessibility
  • Policy and procedure:
  • Investment:
    • 24 hour access to listening service
    • Additional counsellors – possible due to additional funding into student mental health by the Scottish Government (£20 million given to FE/HE counselling services)
    • Pro-active wellbeing outreach
    • Digital platforms – Feeling Good App, SilverCloud CBT courses, Big White Wall
  • Encouraging students to apply for hardship funding if necessary – assist with rent, digital poverty, supporting those who’ve lost their employment
  • Currently reviewing their mental health strategy – it will be brought in line with the UUK Mentally Healthy Universities framework, adopting a whole-university approach
  • Strategy will focus on key areas:
    • Transitions
    • Prevention
    • Progression
    • Wellbeing in the curriculum
    • Staff wellbeing
    • Sense of belonging and community
    • Physical environment/Estates
    • Research
    • Pathways to specialist NHS Mental health services
  • Q – what was the take up on the online mental health training courses amongst staff?
  • A – Prior to pandemic take up on face to face courses was around 40%, the online course capacities are now oversubscribed by 50%. Heads of School are being told to encourage non-clinical school staff to undertake training to ensure they can provide that first line of support and signpost students effectively.

Jenny Smith – Policy Manager, Student Minds

  • Fundamental issues and key pressure points have been exposed as a result of the pandemic – this provides a reason to change
  • Listening work outcomes –
    • Social media scraping – key themes and points analysed from students posts, to understand how they feel about the pandemic.
    • The general mood of students since January lockdown has worsened – there is more anger compared to previous lockdowns
    • Where students are assigning the blame for the handling of the pandemic and its effects – previously this was directed at the Government, and there was a certain understanding and goodwill to Universities
    • From January onwards, a greater proportion of students believe their Universities should have seen the lockdown coming and could’ve prepared more adequately
    • More students in the past 3 months reporting concerns around academic success in proportion to those reporting concerns on social isolation – ties in with first major round of exams/assessments, and students are now more adjusted to living situations and many have returned to term time address
    • Anxiety expressed around job and career prospects, with postgraduate research students reporting this more than other student groups (this group is usually missed out in policy making and research)
    • NUS have complted research in December that showed 52% of students reporting a change or worsening in their mental health due to COVID 19 – only 20% have sought support [acknowledged that these data sets are slightly out of date but still relevant]
  • What can accommodation providers do to help?
    • Students spend majority of their time in accommodation, both prior to pandemic and now
    • Accommodation staff are likely to be the first line of staff to come across students in distress – it’s harder to spot physical cues of poor wellbeing than before e.g. such as visiting students in room
    • The Whole University approach is advocated through the Student Minds Mental Health Charter – it is relevant to accommodation providers as they play a key part in supporting a students living experience, and can be utilised by providers to support their own approach
    • Safely bringing back social and communal spaces is essential to allow students to interact and build social connections. These organic opportunities for socialisation also help to spot those who may be struggling
    • A protective factor identified in tackling student mental health is ownership and belonging over a students own space – the ability to customise and decorate their own space to make it personal and comfortable
    • Student accommodation has caught the attention of mainstream consciousness surprisingly – the response from private providers and Universities has been positive in supporting those in financial hardship
    • Assisting those in financial hardship is key as this is closely linked to a student’s mental health
    • Help to reduce the risk of COVID transmission – lessons can be learned from September, and COVID security this needs to be at the forefront
    • Wrong to assume all students ‘don’t worry’ about COVID, many aren’t teenagers, and many have chronic health conditions
    • Supporting staff wellbeing is equally as important as they have been working hard to support students – are staff properly resourced, are there enough of them, are they being paid enough, is there a working wellbeing system in place for staff?
    • Ensure staff are properly trained to deal with instances of students displaying poor mental health – no one is expecting them to provide clinical help
    • It is essential staff are comfortable in responding if a student presents to them with mental health concerns – e.g. knowing the correct language to use, how to signpost to the right help, knowing when a student is at risk and needs escalating
    • Staff shouldn’t be overburdened to feel like counsellors or clinicians – Student Minds have adapted their training for accommodation providers online: