Student mental health support: don’t let them fall through the gaps

Student mental health support: don’t let them fall through the gaps

13th November 2020

By Qariem Radix

Autumn 2020 has been an incredibly tough time to begin or return to university. 

Outbreaks of Covid-19 have forced thousands of students – many away from their families for the first time – to self-isolate in halls of residence with people they barely know. Lectures and social activity are disrupted, while debts continue to mount. 

And this comes on top of years of concerns about mental health in higher education. 

Just before lockdown, we published a blog outlining the crisis in student mental health. So let’s revisit the topic and examine what mental health support, counselling or signposting students can access during these unprecedented semesters. 

University mental health statistics

In February 2020, we explained how one survey found that half of all students have thoughts of self-harm, and 44.7% have turned to alcohol or drugs to help them cope. Nine in ten struggled with feelings of anxiety. 

During lockdown, this worsened. A Glasgow University study found that suicidal thoughts among those aged between 18 and 29 had risen from 12.5% to 14% – a significant increase given the short short time frame.

One Cardiff University student told The Tab that she normally managed her anxiety through routine, but the pandemic had put paid to normal schedules. 

She said: “Whenever I’ve voiced my mental health issues I’m shoved in front of a service that has a five month waiting list, and that list is only going to be longer now because more and more people are struggling”.  

As Sara Khan of the National University of Students (NUS) says: “There was a mental health crisis across universities prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has only exacerbated these issues.”

Mental health counselling and support

So how are mental health support services for students coping? 

Nightline, the student helpline staffed by volunteers, says call volumes are up, with one in six callers mentioning loneliness – three times the normal percentage. Some Nightlines report a rise in callers talking about suicide. 

University mental health statistics

Face-to-face student counselling services have moved online. One student at Kingston University said: “There is nowhere that you can go to talk to someone on that day to get help. It’s all online appointments now, which can be tricky for people having mental health trouble.

He added: “They need to make it easier to access the services, it doesn’t have to be face to face, it just needs to be more available, more information as to how to access them.”

A snap poll on The Student Room in October 2020 confirmed this, finding that 77% of students didn’t feel confident when it came to accessing mental health support.

Joining up the dots

The National Union of Students (NUS) has called for universities to invest more in their mental health services. It also urged the government to increase spending on NHS services, particularly those supporting BAME, disabled or LGBT people. 

This highlights another problem: that students can fall into the gaps between services run by their university, the NHS, and others. 

tudents can fall into the gaps between services run by their university, the NHS, and others.

It’s hard for young adults to navigate between the providers, often in an unfamiliar town. They may well be registered with a GP back home, and while they are legally adults, many are reliant on their parents for emotional support – hard to access while quarantined in university accommodation.

Connect Assist and university student support

Now more than ever, a collaborative approach is vital. That’s where we can help. 

At Connect Assist, we support several organisations in providing omnichannel mental health services staffed by qualified counsellors. They triage calls, provide emotional, befriending and counselling support, and offer mental health signposting to other provision. 

Our services can be provided on an overflow basis, supporting your existing provision at peak times or handling your out-of-hours calls

Or we can work with your partnership in designing and operating a collaborative service similar to Veterans’ Gateway, which provides information, support and signposting on a variety of issues including mental health. In these situations, we act as the glue that holds all the elements together, creating a seamless experience for people in need.

Contact us today to discuss how we can work together to ease the crisis in student mental health. 


If you need our help in developing more effective, meaningful connections with customers, get in touch today.