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Improving student mental health support: 2020 conference announced

By Charlotte King

In January 2020, it has been announced that the Westminster Higher Education Forum will be hosting a policy conference to discuss their priorities for supporting student mental health.

Initial plans include discussing the government-backed University Mental Health Charter, developed by charity Student Minds; innovative approaches to mental health support for those in higher education; and the development of a university framework for mental health in collaboration with “outside bodies”.

The conference will also see discussion concerning facilitating communication between universities and students; policy priorities for supporting student mental health; supporting the transition to university through accommodating the needs of non-traditional students specifically; ensuring vulnerable students can engage with mental health provisions; and what innovative approaches can be taken to prevent mental health issues.

Specific strategies for preventing mental health issues include considering how schools, colleges and universities can “better support students transitioning to university, with a particular focus on students from disadvantaged or non-traditional backgrounds.”

This comes in light of research published by the Office for Students which reported that BAME students are significantly less likely to remain in study and are more likely to receive lower health grades with declared mental health conditions.

Moreover, at the start of the 2019/20 academic year, the Guardian reported that British universities have seen a rise in student anxiety, depression and mental breakdowns, accompanied by a sudden rise in the number of students dropping out of university.

Attention will also be put toward how the higher education sector can identify students at risk and support them more. One speaker, Ben Jordan, is expected to discuss how universities can use data better to identify characteristics which may signal an increased risk of mental illness amongst students. It’s thought that the pressures of living and learning independently alongside the challenges of forming health relationships are key risk areas for mental health.

Moreover, the conference will see delegates discussing how universities can encourage more students to access help, for example by working to destigmatise mental illness and boost the visibility and awareness of their support services.

The conference is due to take place on January 21, 2020.

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