MANIFESTO ON STUDENTS’ MENTAL HEALTH
1. Problem Statement and Position
All human beings have the right for health and a proper access to healthcare services1. Bearing this in mind, the mental health of any individual plays a key role in its daily life. As Nelson Mandela said, education is the most powerful weapon to change the world, thus it is deeply concerning that only 18.1% of university students are likely to do well2.
According to OECD, young people were 30% to 80% more likely to report symptoms of depression or anxiety than adults3. Several studies across Europe showed the rise of people with mental health problems after the 2008 crisis and during the Covid-19 pandemics 4,5,6,7,8.
On the other hand, the lack of awareness of student mental health, starts with a lack of information and therefore stigmatisation that is based around the topic of mental health. Especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic, 49% of students said they feel ‘worried or very much worried’ about the lockdown measures applied by the government9. More information on the matter of mental health would help to reduce those numbers and give students the confidence to help themselves, each other and/or to know where to get help and reach out for it.
Furthermore, the accessibility problem is still an issue. Various cultural, societal predispositions concerning mental health have a significant impact on using the provided MH services to their fullest capacity. Many among the youth find it shameful to ask for mental health specialist’s help with their struggles – high numbers of suicide ideation are reported, and yet more than half receive no treatment10. Taking into consideration that generally mental illnesses are less reported to receive counselling, these numbers raise even more concern. A quantitative analysis specifies some of the examples, how stigmatization can affect the support students may get. College students indicate, for the most part, they care about individuals with mental illness; however, they also indicate their environment does not consistently deliver a message of care11. This tension may indicate the influence of campus culture regarding mental illness, the presence of stigma in the environment, and a desire to change that culture. Due to the fear of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, individuals with mental illness may self-conceal the signs and symptoms of their illness, or their treatment, to avoid the stigma of mental illness.
All the members of society might be affected for mental health problem as well as everyone have a role in contributing to raise of awareness and improve people’s mental health.
Keeping in mind that students are the reason to universities exist, we advocate the needing for improvement on student’s mental health and the inclusion of all the stakeholders and society member to be engaged and take action.
2. Call to Action
We call upon the following stakeholders to help improve the status of student mental health.
We urge governments and respective Ministries to increase the number of mental health professionals working with university students. We invite health insurance companies to consider having psychotherapy sessions covered (reimbursed) for students.
We remind local, regional, and national authorities to fulfil all the elements of right to health – availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of mental health services for university students12. We demand from governments to adopt national mental health strategy/action plan, through consultative process with all relevant stakeholders – including university students, and to allocate funds necessary for the implementation of the strategy. In addition, we encourage governments to do the constant monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the strategy.
Providing more human resources – on all levels – would improve the access and the quality of the mental health services. In order to do so, the budget for services, resources and support to universities, NGOs, student councils and other stakeholders who advocate for students’ mental health should be increased and stable. A national mental health strategy should be created and implemented, involving all stakeholders – the health professionals, higher education institutions and the faculty members and staff, NGO and civil society, student unions and councils, youth organisations and all youth groups, and supported by an action plan with concrete steps, measurable elements, evaluation periods and criteria and monitoring. We call upon all the mentioned sides to take part in monitoring and periodical evaluation of the strategy and the plan, as well as contributing to the proposing the next steps and/or changes that need to be made in order to ensure long-term change, impact and the higher quality of mental health services and support, and student life overall.
We call upon the University Leadership to take action against Student and academic staff Mental health issues. We are deeply convinced that the issue at hand requires the leaderships’ utmost attention as the current studies show that the mental health issues aren’t going anywhere and the situation is still dire. To tackle the issue we emphasize the need to start looking at the issue as a whole and firstly to conduct research among students and staff and to create a concrete action plan based on the results with measurable elements, evaluation periods, criteria and most importantly monitoring. In this strategy some of the key points should cover the accessibility, availability, quality and acceptability.
Recognizing the accessibility point, we are deeply convinced that the psychological counselling in the Higher Education Institutions (HEI) should be provided for free as Eurostudent studies show that more than 45% of students are experiencing financial issues13. It is mandatory that we do not burden students nor academic staff with extra financial obligations especially if it’s connected to their mental well-being. Furthermore, to increase the accessibility of mental help we emphasize the need to expand the pool of experts which could provide these services as the current situation shows that the waiting times for consultations are anywhere from two to six weeks. As well we would like to emphasize the need to educate the academic community about the availability of psychological counsel. The need for informational seminars and other activities to raise awareness and understanding of mental health issues is mandatory as the literacy on the topic of mental health is still biased.
A friendly and healthy environment at the university and campus is an added value to the quality of students’ lives. You shall ensure the accessibility of the buildings for the students with disabilities and any access needs, having space for sports, cultural, arts and other activities that could directly contribute to students’ mental health, securing sustainability of student’s clubs and societies, and having green spaces would contribute to the quality of students’ life.
Faculty Members/Academic Staff:
We call upon all Faculty Members and the Academic Staff to join the actions alongside the key actors addressed above. As the ones in direct contact with the students on a daily basis and the ones that help students achieve their (academic) goals, faculty members and academic staff have a crucial role in students’ lives and academic journey. We are confident that including the topic of mental health in classes, e.g. including into an already existing or building a new curriculum that will be available to all students to add to their study programme. One of the biggest challenges is preserving the balance between studies, life outside the classroom and extracurricular activities. For this reason, it is crucial to reflect on the obligations and criteria that are put upon students and need to be met. Furthermore, you shall have an open communication about the mental health in the already available classes and being open to offering academic support (and flexibility) when needed, as well as being well-informed and up to date with the information about the service and support available to students contributes to creating a safe space, having an open communication and fighting stigma and the consequences it brings. When discussing the types and/or availability of services and support, we are convinced that one of the productive ones would be peer-to-peer counselling, which would allow students to find other young people of the same or similar age and experiences, and would contribute to creating and/or nurturing their social group. For the members and staff in general, you shall attend a training on the topic of mental health in which they would learn about how to recognise signs or calls for support, knowing how and when to approach students and where to direct them will be an added value to their pedagogical approach, and it will benefit to both sides. Having faculty members, academic staff and everyone involved in students’ lives being aware and recognising the importance of mental health and the appropriate help and support to those who need it nurtures the development of the young people who invested in their education.
Considering the expertise and role that healthcare professionals have they may have a significant impact on healthcare prevention and empowerment within schools and universities. As university mental health staff, they shall make the first step toward the most vulnerable students and students that are meeting academic difficulties. Also, they should build, promote and facilitate mental health awareness and prevention programmes among university staff and mental health professionals. As experts in the area, healthcare professionals should assess their needs in achieving their goals in mental health and advocate, in collaboration with students’ unions and other organizations for assigning more financial support and human resources in tackling student mental health. Nonetheless, healthcare professionals should speak up and share information around the importance of mental health, publicly, through awareness campaigns, as well as on the governmental level and government policies. In regards to the accessibility of mental health support, we call upon healthcare professionals to provide help through live anonymous chat and green line, with the financial support of universities and/or Government.
NGOs/Civil Society/Youth Organizations:
Youth organisations/NGOs/Civil Society could host panels where students with different diagnoses can speak about their personal experiences to break down any stigma associated with their respective diagnoses or difficulties. These groups should also use their social media to give these individuals a bigger platform to speak about their experiences and give youth and their communities opportunities to engage with them in a structured and safe way. These groups should also host periodical consultations with their stakeholders or members in order to monitor the progress of their work with supporting youth and students. Youth organisations shall also lobby the Government for additional funding to promote themselves across the country, with a particular focus on rural and socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. We call upon these organisations to host activities for their members to connect with each other such as sporting events, theatre and concerts. These events should also be used as fundraising opportunities for mental health support in local communities.
Student Unions/Councils are acutely aware of the concerns surrounding student mental health, and shall call for action on the local and national level, such as lobbying the Government to increase funding for mental health supports and implementation of a nationwide Mental Health strategy. Student Unions/Councils should organise and host webinars with guest speakers to talk about student mental health with a focus on prevention, awareness, managing and taking care of one’s mental health while in academia. SUs should also run campaigns against the stigmatisation of mental health difficulties, which could involve information sessions, informational posters and a social media campaign. Students Unions/Councils should hold consultations and focus groups with students to assess the needs of students, and what further support they require (including vulnerable groups, such as migrants and LGBTQ+). This way they gather data regarding the current mental state of students in order to have leverage in the decision-making process. Students Unions/Councils should also organise meetings with the college executive/management/dean and express the mental health needs of students and accessibility using the data from prior consultations. Following on from this, we call upon Students’ Unions to advocate for an anonymous help-line for students in a crisis to call or text to be set-up for students to access support outside of college counselling hours. They should also offer different extracurricular activities for students, such as clubs and societies, sports and cultural activities. Students’ Unions shall use their experience and voice to provide tutoring for students with mental health conditions of academic difficulties and provide information around managing academic expectations, mental health, time-management, motivation, both in person, groups and/or through webinars. Local students’ unions can also network with each other, or if they are members of a national students’ union they can ‘join forces’ to have a bigger impact. For instance, they shall organise national protests to call for additional funding to be administered to mental health support, while simultaneously creating a public demonstration for their local communities on the issue of student mental health.
Bearing in mind students are the essence of a university and convinced of their importance in addressing any matter, encourage students to think critically, promote human rights, raise awareness for MH matter and engage in the academic activities would improve the literacy about mental health problems in the academic community. In the case of students that are living with a Mental Health disorder, they should be involved as MH ambassadors, promote the fight against stigma and the importance of Student Mental Health through their own example and present the mental health issues as a normal phenomenon which shouldn’t be stigmatized. We call upon all the students, as the main beneficiaries of educational services, to advocate with their peers for mental health issues and focus on awareness around its impact and the need for professional help and reach out to the student’s council in order to include the topic in their agenda.
12 In UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – General Comment No. 14: The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health (2000) | End FGM (access in …/…/…).
13 Hendrik Schirmer. Intelligence brief on financial difficulties’ relation to students’ health. EurostudentProject, 2020.