Going to university can be a challenging time. The pressure of work and looming exams, as well as meeting new people and dealing with fees and finances can trigger stress, anxiety and depression. According to the charity Mind, one in four people in the UK will experience mental health problems every year, so if you’re studying at university, it’s reassuring to know that help is available, if you ever need it.
University wellbeing teams can arrange help or counselling for students, but it can sometimes be difficult for individuals to have the confidence to approach people they don’t know – or even recognise that they need help in the first place. That’s when having a team of trained Mental Health First Aiders can come in, providing the first line of support and spotting any early warning signs.
What does a mental health first aider do?
Mental Health First Aiders are individuals who are trained to recognise the early signs of problems such as mounting stress, anxiety or depression and are a trusted point of contact to help someone who needs early intervention. Although they don’t provide therapy or counselling, a Mental Health First Aider offers support to a student by talking to them and encouraging them towards channels for help, such as the university’s wellbeing department or their GP. More and more universities are now choosing to train their staff in mental health first aid and we can now reveal which universities across the UK provide the most mental health support to their students.
During October and November 2019, we sent several Freedom of Information requests to all UK universities to find out exactly how many staff members had been trained in mental health first aid.
Which universities have the highest number of mental health first aiders?
The number of mental health first aiders varies greatly across UK institutions – but there are three universities that are leading the way, having trained over 500 staff members to recognise the telltale signs of a mental health problem and to help students find support.
In terms of sheer numbers alone, the University of Edinburgh has the highest number of staff trained in mental health first aid. Over the last few years, the Scottish university has trained 731 staff having been trained to recognise signs of mental health problems and respond to student needs.
Coming second is the University of Plymouth, which has trained 552 of its staff. And the University of Nottingham, trained 544 members of staff.
The universities with the highest number of mental health first aiders per student
But looking at the results proportionally shows a different story. As student numbers vary greatly from one institution to the next, analysing the number of mental health first aiders per capita can give a much truer picture of how much support a university can offer its students.
Comparing the number of first aiders to the number of students a university has reveals that the institutions on England’s south coast offer some of the best support for students in the UK. Arts University Bournemouth may have just shy of 3500 students, but with over 200 mental health first aiders, it’s top of the list, with 58 staff available for every 1000 students. Bournemouth University also performs well, with 232 members of staff supporting its students (12 per capita).
We’ve already seen that the University of Plymouth has trained a huge number of staff members – and that equates to 26 first aiders for every 1000 students.
The University of Edinburgh leads the way across Scotland (and the whole of the UK) in terms of sheer numbers of staff trained (731), and Glasgow University comes second with 303 staff. But some Scottish universities have a lot fewer; for example, the University of the Highlands and Islands and Glasgow Caledonian only have 1.5 first aiders for every 1000 students.
Others, such as the University of St Andrews and Abertay (Dundee), keep no records at all.
Wales and Northern Ireland
This disparity can also be seen in Wales. As a city, Cardiff offers the most support, with both of its institutions performing well in terms of the number of trained staff: Cardiff Metropolitan has 204 mental health first aiders (19.5 per 1000), whilst Cardiff University has 181 (5.6 per 1000). But Swansea University only has 28 (1 per 1000), and Harper Adams only four (0.75 per 1000).
Of Northern Ireland’s two universities, Queen’s University Belfast has 38 first aid trained staff – but Ulster University does not hold any data about how many staff have been trained in mental health first aid.
London has more universities than any other UK city, with 29 institutions across the capital, but like the rest of the UK, the network of trained staff varies greatly.
Queen Mary University, in London’s East End, has the highest number of trained staff in the capital, with 278 qualified mental health first aiders – that’s 13 for every 1000 students. However, when looking at the data per capita the University comes in at second place.
Kingston University has 264 trained staff, and Imperial College has 223.
The universities with the fewest trained mental health first aiders are the University of West London (5 FT staff / 0.4 per thousand students), City University (9 FT staff, 0.5 per thousand).
Mental health first aid training benefits everyone
Having university staff trained in mental health first aid means that there’s a safety net for thousands of students across the UK, which can help them to get through tough times and continue their education, supported by the university. But the benefits go far wider than just helping students: understanding mental health can also help you to support your colleagues, your own family – and even recognise the warning signs for yourself.