Posted on June 23, 2017 by Gordon Smith

The growth of Healthy Universities – a UK-wide policy to promote health and wellbeing for students

Through the superb efforts of charities such as Mind and campaigns like rethink.org, gradually the stigma of mental illness is diminishing. High profile people such as Prince Harry and Stephen Fry are speaking publicly about mental health, and it is increasingly understood that mental illness may touch all of as at some time in our lives.

As part of this, universities are arming themselves with tools and systems to support students with mental health difficulties and improve student wellness. Over the last five years, the proportion of students who declared a mental health condition has doubled.

Universities have long recognised the importance of pastoral care through chaplaincy services, counselling and Nightline facilities. And it’s clear why universities have to take their role so seriously. For young adults – perhaps moving away from home and their childhood support networks for the first time – degree-level study can be extremely unsettling. The new routines of studying and socialising may be unfamiliar, students may experience financial difficulties for the first time in their lives, and simply learning how to look after themselves can be extremely stressful.

An up-to-date and thorough set of recommendations can be found in the Student Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Good Practice Guide.  This set of guidelines was commissioned by Universities UK and delivered by Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education working group (MWBHE). Containing lots of actionable advice for promoting student wellness and supporting them with any mental illnesses, it provides a framework for the next generation of ‘Healthy Universities’. These places of study offer support and advice for students, but do not step over the line to become therapeutic care givers.

The guide also notes the increasingly holistic approach to promoting health and student wellness in the last decade. The many interrelated factors include social, academic, economic and environmental; all influencing mental health. It is interesting to see that more and more higher education institutions are joining the the Healthy Universities Network, which is part of a global movement to develop and implement ‘whole university’ approaches to health and wellbeing.

It’s now widely accepted that exercise can reduce stress and anxiety and it has been proven that regular exercisers are 33% less likely to suffer from depression during their lifetime. Student gyms are therefore key to facilitating “the integration and embedding of student mental wellbeing across the institution” as recommended in the MWBHE paper.

Engaging in regular exercise can help on many levels. Even a low level of regular physical activity can help alleviate stress. Encouraging students to join a club or simply attend exercise classes can help them make friends and establish those all-important support networks. Feeling fit and healthy can also improve fragile late-adolescent self-esteem too.

Another MWBHE recommendation was that “institutions should consult and collaborate with students’ unions and associations”. This fits in with our previous suggestion of allowing Student Union meetings and club meetings in your gym as another way to bring in students and make sure your facilities are absolutely fit for your students’ needs.

We also recommend incorporating holistic wellness classes such as meditation into your student gym schedule.  And using the latest technology is a sure way to engage students and allow them to track their progress through apps they can access on their mobiles.

If you would like a no-obligation chat about how we could help you design your gym to maximise student wellness, please give us a call on 020 8481 9700.