U21 University Mental Health Declaration Launched

Universitas 21 and U21 Health Sciences Group have together launched the U21 University Mental Health Declaration this week as part of the U21 Health Science Group’s Annual Meeting hosted virtually by University College Dublin. 

Now more than ever, universities will be delivering education in the context of increased levels of stress and anxiety across their staff and student populations and this timely publication sets out U21’s collective set of 5 principles on University Mental Health.

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Vivienne Browne, Associate Director, Government Relations and Policy at Orygen, Australia and Chair of the U21 Health Sciences Mental Health Group said, ‘Poor mental health and wellbeing can significantly impact a student’s academic experience, potentially leading to poorer attendance, performance and sometimes can see students leave their studies all together.  Actively supporting good mental health and wellbeing and supporting students and staff experiencing poor mental health benefits students, universities and society.’

Work on the declaration began in 2018 at the U21 Health Sciences Group Annual Meeting, hosted by the University of Melbourne, considering:

  • The prevalence of mental health issues in universities
  • The impact on students, staff and the broader community
  • Student wellbeing within university policies, course design and professional accreditation
  • Examples of good practice and/or evidence for effective mental health interventions in university settings.

The 2020 COVID19 pandemic has significantly disrupted business and life on many university campuses resulting in increased levels of anxiety and distress for both students and staff. Staff are concerned about tenure in their positions (particularly with many employed as sessional and contract teaching staff) and will be adjusting to a new way of delivering learning online. Students have and will continue to experience unique challenges and psychological stressors including:

  • Disruption to studies and concerns about academic progress
  • Financial distress due to reliance on employment through the hospitality and retail sectors
  • Quarantining of some students within university campus accommodation which has led to mental health impacts from isolation and stigmatisation of some cultural populations
  • International students who have experienced restrictions of entry into the country they are enrolled to study in or who have been sent home due to enforced border protection and prioritised support for national citizens.

Professor Barbara Dooley, Dean of Graduate Studies and Deputy Registrar at University College Dublin, whose studies focus on youth mental health, said ‘The U21 Declaration on University Mental Health has been endorsed by the U21 University Presidents. This endorsement signifies that the mental health and well-being of students and staff is recognized as a global issue.’

Mental Health Resources

The Five Principles are as follows:

Principle 1: The University and everyone in its community commits to its role in creating, promoting and sustaining a positive environment for optimal mental health and wellbeing amongst its staff and students.

Principle 2: Students and staff are at the heart of our concern; therefore, all discussions and delivery of improved services around mental health will consult and engage with the community it aims to serve.

Principle 3: The University commits to its role in linking staff and students who require additional support for their mental health to professional and evidence-based mental health supports either on-campus or off-campus.

Principle 4: The University will facilitate the building of an evidence base through monitoring and evaluating the need for, and outcome and effectiveness of, all mental health and wellbeing policies, programs and services delivered by the University.

Principle 5: The University takes seriously and will address promptly, prejudice related to mental ill-health and will endeavour to foster a stigma-free environment of support and understanding.