The stereotype that students live relatively carefree lives, enjoying a bit of breathing space before the reality of fully blown adult life kicks in, is becoming increasingly outdated – and in the case of many students is utterly inaccurate.
According to the NUS Scotland students' union, a mental health crisis is unfolding on college campuses. This has come about, they say, thanks to the pressure many students are under to juggle the need to work, put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and study.
Now, however, NUS Scotland is celebrating a milestone in its drive to get the mental health problems students experience recognised and addressed.
A record number of institutions –13 colleges and seven universities – have signed up to put in place agreements, known as Student Mental Health Agreements (SMHA), that should result in strong support for their students and staff around mental health.
The agreements encourage institutions to review existing policy, staff training and consider a range of improvements which could have a positive effect on the student experience – but also on staff.
Last week, to mark World Mental Health Day, Stuart Rimmer principal and chief executive of East Coast College revealed the myth of heroic leadership could be damaging for college leaders because it meant they were “expected to be seen to be strong” even when they were “not feeling psychologically at 100 per cent”.
This led to them often ignored warning signs, he said. Mr Rimmer shared his five tips for college leaders who wanted to keep tabs on their mental health.
Commenting on the record number of SMHA sign-ups, NUS Scotland Vice-President Gemma Jones said: “It is so encouraging to see a record number of colleges and universities sign up to create a Student Mental Health Agreement on their campus.
“NUS Scotland’s Think Positive project has already helped a number of institutions develop Student Mental Health Agreements, and I am delighted that this year will see even more agreements put in place.
“SMHAs create a framework of guidance and of support to enable more students to learn and participate fully within their institution, tackling the stigma attached to mental ill health and working toward improving the mental wellbeing of the student body.”
Ultimately, the Scottish government expects that every college and university will work with NUS Scotland to develop an SMHA. Ms Jones also welcomed the Scottish government’s recent pledge to provide 80 counsellors for colleges and universities over the next four years. However, she added that she looked forward to seeing more detail on the rollout of the plans.
She continued: “There is a mental health crisis unfolding on our campuses and as well as being on the forefront of boosting awareness and promoting change through Think Positive’s work, NUS Scotland is also campaigning for improved mental health services for students.”
Following a freedom of information request earlier this year, NUS Scotland found a 76 per cent rise in students trying to access counselling services, with only 60 per cent of those students going on to receive support in 2016-17.