Providing mental health support to students is a priority for the University. Thanks to donor funding, we’ve been able to set up a new platform providing 24/7 support to all students and staffA new online platform provides 24/7 mental health support to all Manchester students and staff Click To Tweet 90% of users of The Big White Wall use the platform outside of 9-5pm Click To Tweet The mental health of our students and staff is a priority for The University of Manchester Click To Tweet
For young people, moving to university can be one of the most exciting times of their lives. But it can also be very challenging. Moving away from home, having to forge new relationships and adapting to a new academic workload can all present challenges for students, particularly on their mental health.
Around one in four students are reported to experience mental health problems every year. These problems can have serious negative impacts on students’ wellbeing and their academic performance. However, they can be treated so long as suitable help and support is readily available.
At Manchester we’re committed to ensuring that all students are able to access help and support for their mental health all year round.
A new centre for mental health
For example, this academic year, alongside the region’s other universities and the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership; we have opened a dedicated £1.6m centre for students with mental health issues.
The centre is a first in the UK, and will ensure that students will be able to quickly and easily access the help they require wherever the student first presents to the mental health system – whether that’s to their GP, the University’s counselling service, or a third sector service.
At the University’s counselling service, we offer free face-to-face appointments with professional counsellors and psychotherapists to all of our students and staff, alongside workshops and podcasts.
We are aware of the importance of being able to see students as soon as possible when they report problems. Currently we commit to seeing students within a few days of reaching out, but there are periods when waiting times can be longer.
With the opening of the new mental health centre, we’re hoping to be able to keep these waiting times as short as possible.
However, there is a concern that regardless of how extensive our face-to-face provision is, there will still be a group of students who are hard to reach. This could be due to issues such as lack of engagement, a belief that their problems are not serious enough, or a lack of confidence in speaking face-to-face with a professional.
For example, it’s believed that in the UK, 75% of people struggling with mental health issues will not, or cannot, reach out for support.
Another concern is offering mental health support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, especially at weekends and evenings when the University’s counselling service is closed. We’re committed to ensuring that students are able to access support 24/7, and donor support is crucial in helping us achieve this.
In September 2019, thanks to the generous support of Richard and Constance Smith, we launched ‘The Big White Wall’, an online platform which provides instantly accessible 24/7 mental health support to our students, staff, and researchers.
The Big White Wall is an online platform, hosted externally to the University, which allows students and staff to discuss mental health issues in a safe environment.
As well as the online community, users of the platform are also able to access a wealth of useful information and self-help programmes covering topics such as anxiety, depression, and alcohol/drug issues.
The platform is monitored 24/7 by clinical professionals to ensure the safety of all users. It is also anonymous, to encourage those people who may initially feel uncomfortable about accessing mental health support. For example, 50% of people never go to a doctor or counsellor for fear of stigma – an issue which is even more prevalent in men. The Big White Wall provides an environment where people can access support while feeling safe and remaining anonymous.
This platform will complement our normal counselling service, and access is available by simple self-referral using a valid university email address. The 24/7 nature of the platform is especially important – with 90% of users accessing the site outside of 9-5pm.
The Big White Wall has already been commissioned by 48 higher education institutions in the UK. The data so far suggests that it is a very successful tool to help students’ mental health.
67% of users report improved wellbeing from using the platform, 58% went on to get further professional support, and 1 in 2 users shared an issue for the first time on the platform.
At Manchester, The Big White Wall will initially run for a 12 month trial, with usage and take-up tracked to monitor performance.
If you are a current University of Manchester student or member of staff, you can access The Big White Wall here.