Why Employers Should Be Concerned About The Lack Of Mental Health Support At UK Universities

In April 2018, Bristol University student Natasha Abrahart was found dead. She had taken her own life. She was one of ten students at this university alone who took their own lives over an eighteen-month period from the winter of 2016 to the spring of 2018.

Tragically, the number of students suffering from mental health issues at UK universities is at an all-time high and in spite of numerous posts about counselling on these universities’ social media feeds, many of these students are not getting the support they need.

What Does This Mean For Employers

Employers might acknowledge that although this new reality of student life for some is unfortunate, it is not their business’s concern. After all, it will be a few years before any of these students apply for graduate schemes, and if they are still suffering from mental ill-health, their company’s own HR staff can address this. However, if support is not properly given at universities, business owners can find themselves facing huge costs, as the staff they hired take sick leave due to long-term mental ill-health shortly after joining, and then employers have to hire others to manage their workload, while retaining these staff on salary.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report released last week showed that in the last year, 600,000 employees in the UK have taken leave due to ill-health caused by stress, depression or anxiety. Over 15 million working days and £1,500 in revenues per employee per year were lost due to mental ill-health. These figures only scratch the surface of the toll taken on business’s productivity by mental health issues.

What Can Employers Do?

By supporting the provision of mental health support in Universities, businesses can ensure that the graduates they hire are resilient and are able to manage their mental health effectively.

Jasmine Hartshorne-Khan, student at a Birmingham University said, ‘As a 3rd Year student, I can definitely confirm that mental ill-health is rife at UK Universities. Student Welfare is failing to meet the increase in demand for emotional and mental health support. ‘Uni Culture’ exists in direct opposition to good mental health. Students are stressed out, under slept, we drink too much, and we are constantly moving between reasonably restrictive environments like home, and complete freedom at university. The uncertainty of what will occur after university is a very scary prospect. As such, there are lots of things that employers can do to ease the stress of current students. Firstly, employers can acknowledge that mental ill-health is as valid as physical ill health. This might include offering ‘self-care days’. Debt also plays a large role in negatively affecting student mental health. I would therefore urge employers to aid students by offering job stability and a liveable salary. My main concern after completing a degree is firstly if I will get a job and then secondly if that job will pay me enough to cover my living expenses and student loan. Employers who can nullify this fear by paying a reasonable salary and offering job security and progression will be doing wonders for student mental health. Employers must offer complete mental health care as standard to graduates’.

If students feel as though they will not receive sufficient mental health support while at university, they may choose not to attend at all. The result could be fewer talented young people obtaining the qualifications they need to add value to some of the country’s biggest businesses. Placing themselves at the forefront of mental health awareness and support is therefore not just advisable for businesses but will be essential if these businesses hope to continue attracting talented young people and developing them into productive employees.

Funding events for support networks and therapy sessions would enable universities to higher more specialist staff on a full-time basis to provide the required levels of support to growing number of students coming forward with mental health issues. Natasha Abrahart took her own life after being unable to obtain the support she needed from her university.

Students themselves are also holding events to raise mental health awareness across campuses. A great example of one of these events was Blues for the Blues, held in the University of Birmingham’s Westmere postgraduate research hub, which provided a fantastic opportunity for PhD students to openly discuss any mental health issues they were suffering from, while enjoying delicious street food and the soulful vibes of a 7-piece jazz band. If businesses supported more of these events by contributing to the costs of catering and entertainment, these student-led initiatives would be able to reach far more people, far more frequently.

Most importantly of all, through sponsoring mental health services at universities and participating in student-led efforts to raise awareness about the subject, businesses can ensure that other students get the help they need, when they need it, and do not suffer the same fate as Natasha.

How We Help

We provide consultation services to colleges and universities across the UK, encouraging students to open-up about their mental health, and seek support if they need it. We also partner with a number of educational institutions to help them offer appropriate levels of support. We can also train your managers in mental health awareness so that they can spot when new hires are starting to struggle with stress. Altruist can guide your business in identifying, addressing and managing your employees’ mental ill-health, so that you can show your staff the compassion they deserve, whilst achieving at least the profits you expect.

Katie attended the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy where she set up Altruist in 2013. Since then, Katie has won various awards including Birmingham Mail's Young Achiever of the Year 2017, New Entrepreneurs Foundation 'Future Face of Business' and Entrepreneurial Spark's 'Most Accelerated Business'. She has also been a finalist in nine other award categories and in 2014, Katie was invited to attend the prestigious 'Women of the Year Lunch' in honour of her work raising awareness and reducing the stigma attached to mental health.

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