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UPSU MENTAL WELLBEING REPORT In October 2013 the University of Plymouth Students’ Union (UPSU) and Plymouth University signed the Time To Change pledge led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, becoming a major part of becoming England’s biggest programme to challenge mental wellbeing discrimination. UPSU pledged to find out more about what were Plymouth University student’s experiences with mental wellbeing. This is that report.

Mental Wellbeing Report 2013-2014


Table of Contents Executive Summary................................................................................................................. 2 Mental Wellbeing Report ......................................................................................................... 3 Existing Research ............................................................................................................ 3 Method ............................................................................................................................. 4 Analysis and discussion ....................................................................................................... 4 Personal experiences of mental wellbeing ....................................................................... 4 Perceptions and awareness surrounding mental wellbeing ............................................. 6 University services and current mental wellbeing issues ................................................. 9 Recommendations ............................................................................................................. 14 Recommendation 1: Employability and Disclosure ........................................................ 14 Recommendation 2: Stigma, Discrimination and Understanding ................................... 14 Recommendation 3: University Lifestyle and Support Services ..................................... 15

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Executive Summary UPSU considers the wellbeing of its members as one of its highest priorities, working year on year on new initiatives that’ll help support students through their studies. This year UPSU embarked on a challenge to tackle effectively the causes and effects that University life can have on a student’s mental wellbeing. The first step that UPSU took was to sign the Time to Change pledge, which is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and is becoming a major part of becoming England’s biggest programme to challenge mental wellbeing discrimination. By signing this pledge UPSU agreed to uncover the depth and range of issues that affect member’s mental wellbeing. This report is the final result of that first step, and with over 1300 respondents a fantastic start! Contained in the report are the key statistical findings as well as the next stages in the form of recommendations. Below you will see these findings in their simplest form: • • • • • • •

70% of students did not declare their mental wellbeing issue on the university application form 50% of students would not declare their mental wellbeing issue when applying for employment Only 40% know that the University must make expected adjustments to take account of their difficulties Over 15% felt that they had been discriminated against because of mental wellbeing issues Over 25% of students feel that University life has impacted negatively upon their mental wellbeing 59% of students were left unable to cope at some point 30% declaring that they feel they haven’t been adequately support

In summary the report demonstrates a variety of significant issues related to mental wellbeing, and through this has a set of recommendations which it hopes will set the bench mark for future actions and successes. “I really hope that when reading this report you are able to appreciate the confidence it took for those students who responded. It is those students who I want to help. But I also want to help the students who go through Plymouth University in the years to come. I want Plymouth to stand head and shoulders above when it comes to mental wellbeing support.” Vice President Welfare and Community Charlie Green

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Mental Wellbeing Report In October 2013 the University of Plymouth Students’ Union (UPSU) and Plymouth University signed the Time To Change pledge led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. This is becoming England’s biggest programme to challenge mental wellbeing discrimination. UPSU pledged to find out more about Plymouth University student’s experiences with mental wellbeing. These are the first stages of a series of actions which hope to; • • • • • • •

Effect change with the quality and quantity of current mental wellbeing services in place within Plymouth University, Remove stigma and discrimination of mental wellbeing issues by encouraging greater student involvement in peer support schemes, Encourage students to set up a society which campaigns for positive mental wellbeing change whilst at University, Advise the Vice Chancellors Executive on key mental wellbeing issues, Influence the local Health and Wellbeing Board and Clinical Commissioning Group, Aid national research, Support NUS with its ongoing work on mental wellbeing.

This report is based upon the results of a large survey of Plymouth University students, conducted from January through to March in 2014. This research was carried out by UPSU and asked students a range of questions related to their experiences of mental wellbeing. Existing Research It has been suggested that up to 1 in 4 people per year will experience a mental wellbeing problem of some description. It has long been recognized that this issue is particularly prevalent amongst higher education students. A report published by the Mental Health Foundation in 2001 argued that the prevalence, and severity of mental illness amongst university students is increasing, and that students often have poorer health than the nonstudent population. Despite this, relatively little research has been carried out in relation to the mental wellbeing of the UK higher education student. Academic research from Australia has shown that stigma has been a powerful force in preventing university students with mental health difficulties from gaining access to appropriate support (Martin, 2009). Often, students fear that asking for help may lead to discrimination throughout their studies, and subsequent employment. Similarly, a short NUS study from Scotland offered an insight into the causes of mental health issues that students experienced whilst at university (NUS, 2013). As a result, officers from a number of student unions from around the country, including Sussex and Manchester have begun to investigate how they can work in partnership with their university and the relevant local organizations in order to better support students experiencing mental wellbeing difficulties. 3


Method UPSU ran an online survey of 18 questions with additional demographical questions, lasting approximately 10 minutes. The survey was promoted via social media and through research assistants. The survey ran from the 21st January until the 17th February. The survey collected 1358 responses, which is an incredibly large sample of Plymouth University students, with the survey respondents trending towards females (65.21%) aged 24 and under (78.19%) who are heterosexual (82.72%) and White British (84%) without faith or religion (63.64%). 12.41% have dependents and 25.52% have a religion or faith.

Analysis and discussion Personal experiences of mental wellbeing This first section will identify the core issues affecting student’s personal experiences of mental wellbeing. Covering key questions such as; did you come to Plymouth University with a personal experience of mental wellbeing issues, are you aware of the legal support you have in regards to your mental wellbeing, and disclosure of mental wellbeing issues. The results are evidence of a set of significant problems that need to be addressed, how they are to be addressed is a conversation needed at the strategic level and at the operational level. In table one it is shown that over 35% (462) of respondents of the survey had some level of personal experience of mental wellbeing issues, this is quite a high number who are willing to disclose and discuss. It is also an indicator that mental wellbeing issues may not be solely University lifestyle orientated, however it does highlight that students need support from the moment they enter into Higher Education (HE).

Table 1

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The amount of students who completed the survey demonstrates that mental wellbeing is an issue at Plymouth University. The proportion who responded yes to this question should further highlight that an increase in the support services is needed, but that there needs to be a comprehensive discussion about how the whole institution responds to the mental wellbeing of its students. Despite the seemingly significant high proportion of respondents who have had an experience of mental wellbeing issues, it is more interesting to note that over 50% (670) of those who completed the survey had no experience of mental wellbeing issues. What this may demonstrate is an empathetic student population who are keen to support through discussion those with mental wellbeing issues, this is an area that requires further research and is not covered directly within this survey. Another aspect to note is that students may have developed mental wellbeing issues during their time at University which will be explored in depth later on in this report. 70% of students did not declare their mental wellbeing issue on the university application form (shown in table 2), and nearly 50% of students would not declare their mental wellbeing issue when applying for employment (shown in table 3). Table 2 -Did you declare your mental health issue on your university application form?

Table 3 - Would you declare a mental health issue when applying for employment?

These results demonstrate a high level of perceived stigma and lack of awareness of the laws in place to protect individuals from any form of discrimination, as well as instigating the support mechanisms available. This is supported by graph 1 that shows 40% know that the University must make expected adjustments to take account of their difficulties.

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Graph 1

In consideration of the statistics, below are some open responses that hope to explore why students didn’t disclose on their application form;

“Concern that it would affect my application” “Could affect future career” “Didn’t want it to affect my chances of being accepted at uni” “I fear that if I speak to anyone about this it will go on my permanent record, and could impede my chances of employment or anything else I could be seen unfit for” Based on these responses there is an indication that personal tutors, the careers and employment department, and the learning support and wellbeing department need to do more to address tackling perceptions of stigma and discrimination in the workplace.

Perceptions and awareness surrounding mental wellbeing This section will develop in more depth an understanding of students perceptions and awareness surrounding mental wellbeing, focusing on questions such as; what do you class as a mental wellbeing issue, have you ever felt discriminated against, and would you talk to someone about your mental wellbeing. When asked ‘What do you class as a mental wellbeing issue?’ the responses were varied but centred mainly around any mental wellbeing condition that may impact negatively upon 6


an individual’s day to day functioning. More detailed analysis of this open-ended question showed that - 18% mentioned stress, 12% mentioned depression and anxiety, 9% mentioned not feeling normal, 6% mentioned Bi-Polar, and 3% mentioned eating disorders. “Anything from depression, bipolar, eating disorder to stress. It is anything which

affects your normal thinking pattern.” “Psychological issues that negatively affect a person's life experiences, e.g. anxiety, depression, schizophrenia etc.” “Extreme cases such as eating disorders, not functionally properly, especially emotionally. Mild cases such as stress and emotionally not coping.” This demonstrates is a student population whose perceptions are varied and diverse, yet most are negatively framed. The most clear cut definition of mental wellbeing is: “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” (World Health Organization, 2013) This definition is purposefully positive, thus in comparison to the student response there is a suggestion that there needs to be a greater level of awareness amongst the student population of what mental wellbeing actually is. When analysing the responses on discrimination it is important to note that it is an extremely personal perception and that everyone has different standards that they regard as discriminatory. In respect of this, graph 2 displays that over 15% felt that they had been discriminated against because of mental wellbeing issues, whilst 10% were not sure.

Graph 2

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The implications surrounding this data relate stronger to the wider student body, who may have little understanding of the impact a negative mental wellbeing can have on the individual. This draws back to the responses explored earlier on when asked ‘what do you class as a mental wellbeing issue?’, of which many responses deviated from the recognised description, giving a greater weight to the argument that there needs to be more education delivered to all students and support staff at an earlier stage. The responses to this question also strengthens the evidence that stigma and discrimination against people with mental wellbeing issues is prevalent. Graph 3 shows that only 65% of students surveyed feel that they would be ready and willing to discuss a mental wellbeing issue if it arises (65%). This means that 35% are either not sure or would not talk about their mental wellbeing. This later statistic signifies a large proportion of students who may need targeted support to break down whatever barriers there are. What these barriers are, this survey has not attempted to discover but it may be case that it is the potential stigma and discrimination surrounding mental wellbeing.

Graph 3

Graph 4 demonstrates a strong willingness of students to respond positively to mental wellbeing issues, with 80% ready to spend time listening and talking with an individual.

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Graph 4

The peer-support scheme recently set up by Plymouth University has already responded appropriately to this data by engaging students in this fashion of listening and encouragement. Awareness of this scheme is growing and should become an essential service offered by the University in partnership with students in the future. There is also a growing opportunity for students to create a society based around campaigning for change in awareness and the removal of the stigma and discrimination which has been evidence in this research.

University services and current mental wellbeing issues This final section will analyse comprehensively how effectively the University and its services, as well as external agencies, provide support to students who suffer from mental wellbeing issues. By drawing together the other sections and linking them to the key responses uncovered from questions such as; have you developed mental wellbeing issues since being at University, what caused your feelings of bad mental wellbeing, has your mental wellbeing left you unable to cope, what support have you had and what quality has it been, and what other additional support would you like to see available, this report hopes to determine and set down strategies to better support students at Plymouth University. The results from graph 5 demonstrate that nearly a quarter of students feel that University life has impacted negatively upon their mental wellbeing, and with just over 20% being ‘unsure’ signifies a lack of awareness and clarity. If students received better support we would be able to see a clearer indication of potential issues as well as reducing any stigma and discrimination associated with mental wellbeing.

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Graph 5

The following data, in graph 6, further supports the suggestion that University life may have led to potentially significant mental wellbeing issues. Academic factors feature heavily in the list of perceived causes of these feelings; coursework, exams, and finance are all shown in the graph below.

Graph 6

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With such a high proportion of students associating mental wellbeing with University graph 7 extends the understanding as to what impact that has. This graph shows that 59% of students were left unable to cope at some point, a total of 749 students. When considering this statistic it is easier to compare to the size of a cohort, or many cohorts. Equivalently this would be all of the students studying Law across all years. Fortunately at Plymouth University and in the local community there are services suited to mental wellbeing issues, so the 749 students should be well supported, or they are aware of, and willing to use these services. The next set of graphs indicates the use and quality of those services. Graph 7

The results gathered from the survey specify that friends and family, the campus GP and an external GP, the counselling service, and a personal tutor were the most often accessed forms of support. The set of graphs below set down the quality of each of these interactions:

Graph 9

Graph 8 11


The ‘friends’ and ‘family’ graphs (8 and 9) above portray the most positive forms of support available for students. With ‘very good’ remarks made for both, and with very low comparatively ‘bad’ and ‘very bad’ scores. The next two graphs (10 and 11) below reflect the answers for GP surgery’s both on and off campus. As can be seen the results are mixed with the on-campus GP performing better at the higher end of the scale but worse at the lower levels, insinuating an inconsistent service being provided to students. The off-campus GP has an average score higher than oncampus yet may provide a service that doesn’t fit the needs of students to the level expected. In comparison to ‘friends’ and ‘family’ GP’s are considerably below the standards set.

Graph 11

Graph 10

The University counselling service is a central focus for students suffering from mental wellbeing issues. From graph 11 it can be seen that students have a broad range of opinions, most explicitly a high ‘very bad’ score which tops the highest of all categories in this section.

Graph 12

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Graph 13, which refers to ‘personal tutors’ shows a balanced set of responses but with a more positive indication, gaining very high marks of ‘good’. Given the nature and training of personal tutors it is expected that the results would be varied.

Graph 13

In consideration of the graphs in this set it is evident that students perceive that ‘friends’ and ‘family’ are the best support devices available to them. Therefore, UPSU and the University should encourage students to use these support mechanisms. Progress within this area is evident through the newly developed ‘peer-to-peer’ scheme within the University. The next question has highlighted a significant issue in regard to the way that the University administers its support for students with mental wellbeing issues. Graph 14 demonstrates the statically shocking feelings shared by those students. With 30% declaring that they feel they haven’t been adequately support, nearly 34% unsure and 15% preferring not to say. Based on assumptions it can be argued that 79% of students are not being supported to the level that they are entitled. Graph 14

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Recommendations The survey and subsequent report is a fantastic indication of the state of students’ mental wellbeing at Plymouth University. This has only been achievable through the willingness of student’s to discuss their state of mental wellbeing. Therefore I hope that this report and its subsequent recommendations help to grow an understanding of the key issues with the final ambition to being able to provide the right level of service at the right time. This report has been able to provide a series of recommendations based upon the findings of this survey. The findings fall into three main areas. They are personal experience of mental wellbeing, the perceptions and awareness surrounding mental wellbeing, and the university services and current mental wellbeing issues.

Recommendation 1: Employability and Disclosure This report has found that there is a low disclosure rate when it comes to employability, or any perception that admittance of a historically poor mental wellbeing will impact on future life course. This has highlighted that there needs to be a better linkage between the appropriate support services of the Learning Support and Wellbeing department and the Careers and Employability department. The report has also highlighted the lack of awareness and understanding amongst students of the lawful arrangements that an institution has to abide to. This report recommends that the University put in place a set of mental wellbeing educational material before and during Welcome Week, term 1, 2, and 3 every year all the way to Graduation. This report also recognises that there is internal work required from UPSU. Given that UPSU run a range of sports clubs, societies and volunteering groups we should do more to support the committees to providing an accessible and inclusive Union. Therefore this report recommends that these groups receive mental wellbeing training during new committee inductions, and that within committees there is a dedicated level of responsibility for the mental wellbeing of its members. It is also a recommendation that a mental wellbeing society is set up by students accessing support from national charities.

Recommendation 2: Stigma, Discrimination and Understanding This report has illustrated that there is an abundance of perceived stigma and discrimination at the University of Plymouth when dealing with mental wellbeing. If we are able to challenge these fears and tackle these stereotypes we can break down any barriers to support and give students the best chance to succeed. Therefore, it is recommended that a directory of support services is easily available, a directory that details the activity and its intended level of support. This directory would enable students to self-identify the support they need and have the option readily available for them to access. It also furthers the suggestion that collaboration between the relevant

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services in Plymouth is required. It is recommended that this is followed up by UPSU with support from Plymouth City Council. This report would like to highlight the incredible work being achieved to date by the Learning Support and Wellbeing department, by diversifying the range of support offered during difficult economic times and the increase in student mental wellbeing issues. This report recommends that these schemes are continued, better advertised and improved upon.

Recommendation 3: University Lifestyle and Support Services This report has discovered that the University lifestyle can contribute negatively to the state of students’ mental wellbeing. With this being the case it essential that changes are made to the basic way Plymouth University runs a number of key processes. The first recommendation is that the academic assignment process be reviewed so that students are not faced with a multitude of deadlines in a short space of time. The looming prospect of 5 essays within 1 week is daunting and doesn’t support a healthy outlook on education. The second recommendation is that the University should respond in a far more flexible and supportive manner to students’ struggle with finances. The research conducted as part of the UPSU Hidden Course Cost report showed that students are facing a financial situation indicative of a non-inclusive agenda. The third recommendation is that the University invest in greater quality student support services, specifically emergency out-of-hour care. There is a growing need for support services that are accessible to students when they need it, not to wait in a queue potentially lasting months. Again this report would like to highlight the incredible work the Learning Support and Wellbeing department has achieved this year, however more needs to be done. The fourth recommendation is for UPSU to progress with its inclusivity of its sports clubs, societies, and volunteer groups. Part of this is to promote these groups within the sphere of a positive mental wellbeing. The fifth recommendation is for the NHS to respond appropriately when resourcing mental wellbeing. The current service provisions available in GP surgeries on and off campus are not at the level expected of NHS. As a core national service all members of society should expect a service that responds to need, at the current time it doesn’t achieve this. The sixth and final recommendation is for the University to educate and support personal tutors when dealing with the first incidence of poor mental wellbeing. Often the first step for students is the disclosure of a potential problem to their personal tutor, without the correct support students could be falling through the net.

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UPSU Mental Wellbeing Report 2013-2014 Vice President Welfare and Community Charlie Green 17


Mental Wellbeing Report 2014