Mental health and wellbeing is a top priority in the new academic year, say Principals and Student Union Presidents

The Principals and Student Union Presidents of Scotland’s 19 universities have issued an open letter to students assuring them that mental health and wellbeing is a top priority in the new academic year.

The letter sets out to raise the visibility of general opportunities for wellbeing and preventative measures as well as more focused mental health support services that exist within each university. By being upfront about this, and ensuring every student receives the same message at the start of term, it is hoped that the letter will reduce the stigma of mental ill-health and ensure that students make use of university services.

The statement is just one expression of universities’ collaborative work on student mental health. Universities Scotland has had a group leading on student mental health since 2018, led by Professor Pamela Gillies, Principal at Glasgow Caledonian University. It brings together our members’ heads of student support services and NUS Scotland to address shared issues such as interaction with the NHS.

Last year Universities Scotland secured backing from The Robertson Trust to fund The Thriving Scottish Learners study which is being undertaken by The Mental Health Foundation. It’s the largest study of university student mental health in Scotland and will lead to recommendations on prevention, early intervention and support of learners’ mental health and wellbeing when it reports later this year.

The statement to students from the 19 Principals and Student Union Presidents of Scotland’s universities and higher education institutions reads:

Dear student,

We are pleased to be welcoming you to university for the 2021/22 academic year, whether you are starting university for the first time or returning to a new level of study.

We know that many of you are excited to return to in-person teaching and wider face-to-face experiences at university. Yet, we also understand that some people might have concerns about the re-adjustment this involves. In this context we believe it has never been more important to look after your mental health and wellbeing; we want to give greater visibility to the wide range of activities and services that are available to support you.

The University and Student Union/Association take a whole institution approach, which is supportive of your wider wellbeing, including:

  • helping you connect with other people, for example by joining one or more student societies;
  • being physically active, for example by joining a sports club;
  • learning new skills; and
  • giving something back to the wider community, for example by volunteering.

We are also here to offer a range of focused support for your mental health if things are not going well. It is ok not to be ok. We encourage you to pay attention to your mental health and to ask for help if you need it. Our support services celebrate the tremendous diversity of our student population and so the support we can offer is inclusive of all nationalities, race and religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identification.

As the year begins, we will share opportunities to get engaged in university life, activities to support your wellbeing and details of our support services for mental health. You can also find details of the specific services offered if you search for student mental health on our website or online learning portal.

The return to an in-person experience is possible thanks to our dedicated staff, who have worked through unprecedented circumstances over the last eighteen months of the pandemic. We ask that you are mindful of their wellbeing and continue to be considerate of one another throughout the year.

We are here to support you and we wish you all the very best for a mentally healthy and rewarding year.

Supported by:

Professor Sir Gerry McCormac Principal of the University of Stirling & Convener of Universities

Nela Cadinanos Gonzalez
President, University of Stirling Students’ Union

Professor Sally Mapstone
Principal of the University of St Andrews & Vice Convener of Universities Scotland

Lottie Doherty
President, University of St Andrews Students’ Association

Professor George Boyne
Principal of the University of Aberdeen

Alisa Koester
President, Aberdeen University Students’ Association

Professor Nigel Seaton
Principal of Abertay University

Robyn Thiel
President, Abertay University Students’ Association

Professor Iain Gillespie
Principal of the University of Dundee

Dimitris Vidakis
President, Dundee University Students’ Association

Professor Peter Mathieson
Principal of the University of Edinburgh

Ellen Macrae
President, Edinburgh University Students’ Association

Professor Andrea Nolan
Principal of Edinburgh Napier University

Heloisa Fyfe
President for Societies and Community, Edinburgh Napier Students’ Association

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli
Principal of the University of Glasgow

Ella McCabe
President, Glasgow University Students’ Representative Council

Professor Pamela Gillies
Principal of Glasgow Caledonian University

Adil Rahoo
President, GCU Students’ Association

Professor Penny Macbeth
Director of the Glasgow School of Art

Rory O’Neill
President, GSA Students’ Association

Professor Richard A Williams
Principal of Heriot-Watt University

Emily Lucy King
President, Heriot-Watt University Student Union

Professor Todd Walker
Principal of the University of the Highlands and Islands

Florence Jansen
President, Highlands and Islands Students’ Association

Ms Susan Stewart
Director of the Open University in Scotland

Sarah Jones
President, Open University Students’ Association

Sir Paul Grice
Principal of Queen Margaret University

Aasiyah Patankar
President, QMU Students’ Union Edinburgh

Professor Steve Olivier
Principal of Robert Gordon University

Laila Obiagwu
President, RGU Students’ Union

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey
Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

John Anthony Craig
President, RCS Students’ Union

Professor Wayne Powell
Principal of Scotland’s Rural College

Cara Sangster (pending)
Amy McLuckie (pending)
Roz Asli (pending)
Co-Presidents, SRUC Students’ Association

Professor Sir Jim McDonald
Principal of the University of Strathclyde Glasgow

Benn Rapson
President, University of Strathclyde Students’ Association

Professor Craig Mahoney
Principal of the University of the West of Scotland

Ellie Gomersall
President, UWS Students’ Association