Our work on mental health

We know mental health is on a continuum and we are looking today, on University Mental Health Day, at our current work on student mental health in Scotland. Professor Pamela Gillies (Principal of Glasgow Caledonian University) is the Lead Member for Mental Health at Universities Scotland. She has convened a sector wide group with representatives of HEIs and NUS Scotland and here reviews our recent work.

Based on research, we know that 75% of mental health problems are established by age 24. Of course not all university students are under 24 but many are. Our sector firmly believes that students should be a priority population across Scottish Government’s work to support young people’s mental health and wellbeing. In the coming year we have a huge opportunity to make this a reality.

Over the past 10 years there has been a significant increase in the number of first-year students disclosing mental health problems to their HEI – across the UK this has increased five-fold. Whilst it is positive that students feel they can disclose such issues, this is likely to be an underestimate of the problems that students face. We know that there have been huge increases in demand for counselling across the sector. To help support students we want to see mandatory strategic partnerships between the NHS and HEIs. This could tackle a number of challenges around referral pathways, information sharing, and supporting transitions, given students often move across NHS boundaries. We are very excited about the work of Dr Dame Denise Coia on the Taskforce on Children and Young People’s Mental Health and look forward to working together to develop approaches that support our students.

We believe that university can be a critical time to support and empower students to have good mental health and we are very aware of the importance of wellbeing. Each university is working to address these issues and support positive mental health and wellbeing in our students, however the evidence base of what works and students’ views on the support provided is very limited. A cross-sector group, led by Universities Scotland, is developing a research proposal to address this and we hope to have good news to share soon. We hope this research will help us to better measure the impact of what we are doing. Our focus is on an enhancement-led approach. Scottish universities are internationally regarded for our enhancement-led teaching and we want to apply this ethos to all of our work on mental health – it’s about enhancing what each HEI is doing, recognising that one size doesn’t fit all. Our students are diverse, our institutions are diverse, so let’s celebrate that diversity whilst helping everyone improve.

We welcome Scottish Government’s investment to support student mental health and call for flexibility in how this is used across higher and further education. We look forward to discussing this more with our colleagues in Government and the Scottish Funding Council. We are working closely together, to a common goal to support student wellbeing, providing a great platform.

Universities have been working hard to support students for many years with our committed student support services and counselling teams doing an extremely good job. As a sector, we now believe that we can make greater strides. University Mental Health Day gives us a great opportunity to reflect on where we currently are and to look forward. We would really encourage all students to engage with activities at your institutions – we want to hear your voice.


If you need support for a mental health problem please look at the Citizens Advice Scotland website to access help.

If you would like to read more about researcher mental health please see our blog from June 2018.