Chris Skidmore, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, visited the University today to learn more about mental health support for students.
The visit coincides with a Government announcement to create a student mental health taskforce to help people successfully manage the new challenges that going to university presents.
He said: “Going to university is a truly transformative experience – giving you the chance to immerse yourself in a subject you love, in a dynamic, supportive environment.
“Yet for some people, their university years are a far cry from the ‘good times’ they had hoped for, and coping with the pressures of academic life can be a difficult and lonely experience.
“That’s why we must make sure that students have the right support in pace to deal with these challenges. I met the teams at the University of Leeds and Student Minds Leeds today for University Mental Health Day so we can continue to drive forward the progress being made to support students to thrive in higher education.
“I want to make sure I can work with the expertise and knowledge base developed at the University of Leeds and take that forward into a national conversation.”
The Universities Minister went on to describe the University of Leeds as a "pioneer" in mental health support.
Working in partnership
The University and Leeds University Union (LUU) work closely together to support students, through policy initiatives, services and activities.
The Minister met students and staff including Vice-Chancellor Sir Alan Langlands and Leeds University Union Welfare Officer Matt Port.
He also met representatives from Student Minds, the UK’s national student mental health charity, which has recently relocated from Oxford to Leeds.
“The welfare of our students is critically important to us.”
Christopher Warrington, Head of Student Support at the University said: “The welfare of our students is critically important to us.
“In order to help people to succeed at university and to become independent, critical thinkers who make a difference to the world around them, we provide a support network for the whole student journey – from Freshers’ Week to Graduation Fortnight and beyond, through our alumni programmes.
“Importantly, we work with other experts and service providers in the city, including the student medical practice, relevant charities and Leeds City Council, to give students the scope of support that they need.
“Support is also embedded across our services – running through Faculties and Schools, through central support such as the Student Counselling and Wellbeing Service, and Disability Services, and additional support provided by Big White Wall.
“Like every university, we know that there is always more to do to improve the wellbeing of our students but we will continue to work in partnership to support students and to consistently enhance our provision.”
University Mental Health Day on campus
The Minister visited the student union building where student help and support staff provided five “Ways to Wellbeing” stations around the foyer.
The themes of the stations are based around an NHS initiative that suggests five focuses: connect, be active, take notice, learn and give.
Included was a reminder of the extensive health and wellbeing services which are available to students through the University and the students’ union as well as related student societies.
A local and national approach
The University has close connections with key city, regional and national projects and initiatives that focus on student mental health:
- The University’s Head of Student Support has been invited to be a part of the taskforce discussions announced today by Education Secretary, Damian Hinds;
- The Head of Student Counselling & Wellbeing is part of a group setting the five-year strategy for mental health in the city in order to put forward the needs of students;
- The University currently chairs Leeds Student Health & Wellbeing Partnership which brings together higher education institutions, NHS bodies, and charities to focus on student matters and provide a city-wide approach.
Working with students, and in response to feedback and demand, the University has over the last four years diversified its core support to ensure that students can access help whenever they need it.
This includes investment in Big White Wall, a 24/7 online peer and professional support portal that provides a safe space online to talk and learn how to improve and self-manage mental health and wellbeing.
In line with current specialist advice, the University also offers groupwork sessions and workshops.
In the first collaboration of its kind, Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, will partner with LUU and build on work with the University on local and national initiatives to make a step change in the way wellbeing and mental health in universities are co-produced and shaped.
The charity has visited hundreds of universities, students’ unions and other organisations over the last decade, and as they embark on major strategic change programmes including developing the University Mental Health Charter, they see many benefits of being a part of the city.
Rosie Tessler, CEO of Student Minds, said: “This is a great time for us to be joining a vibrant, diverse and fun city like Leeds and to work with the fantastic partnership that exists between the University of Leeds and Leeds University Union.
“The University hosts NHS and Whitehall functions and a thriving charity sector, and we will have forward-thinking universities and students’ unions on our doorstep and down the train tracks.
“On University Mental Health Day, and all year round, we need to ensure that student mental health is a strategic priority at our universities and for health providers.”
The University-wide approach to student support is evident through a new initiative called Residence Life – part of the University’s Accommodation Services – which encourages students to create a community within their halls of residence, enabling them to make the most of their University experience.
Photo: Chris Skidmore with LUU Exec members: Chris Morris, Lauren Huxley and Matt Port