Rebecca Filer

Universities must do more to support students’ mental health

It’s World Mental Health Day 2017 and the conversation around mental health at university has shifted over the past year. It’s no longer about recognising that mental health is just as important as physical health, but about improving university facilities, tackling the effect of stress on students and the looming prospect of debt and seeking post-graduation employment.

YouGov recently conducted a survey into student mental health, finding that 27% of students reported having some form of mental health problem. That’s over a quarter of British students suffering from mental health problems at university. Anxiety and stress, for students, are the biggest contributors to mental health problems, with six in ten reporting that they feel levels of stress that interfere with their day-to-day lives.

Attitudes to mental health amongst students are really turning around. Students are far more likely than other groups to be accepting of mental health issues on the same level as physical ones, an incredibly positive step towards breaking the stigma around mental health.

But it’s very clear to see that with Higher Education in the state that it’s currently in, universities need to do more to support their students in a world that is becoming all the more uncertain for young people leaving university. Debt, high pressure to achieve and the knowledge that our generation won’t enjoy the same level of employment stability as our parents and grandparents did all have a serious affect on the mental health of students.

Universities are beginning to confront this responsibility. The University of Bristol is implementing new wellbeing advisors along with £1 million into additional into student services following a two year long strategic review into students’ wellbeing. But we can’t rely on universities to fix the problem with increased funding alone, we need to continue powerful, peer-led activism in this area to revolutionise the approach to mental health at universities/

But what’s this got to do with Jewish students and Reclaim, UJS’s mental health campaign? Stigma surrounding mental health is low amongst the general student population, but the same cannot be said for the Jewish community. Faith communities often have difficulties confronting mental health issues and speaking up about these problems can be far more difficult. The work that JAMI and the Reclaim campaign has done so far has been ground-breaking within our community.

Reclaim will continue to be a powerful, student-led initiative, tackling the stigma of mental health within our community but also taking a step towards asking universities, communal bodies and schools to make practical commitments on these issues.

The theme for World Mental Health Day 2017 is mental health in the workplace. Our universities are a stepping stone into the wider world, and for most students into the world of work. Learning strategies to deal with stress and anxiety at university is crucial for setting up a healthy working environment in later life. Reclaim plays a huge role in that development. If you’d like to get involved in Reclaim, send me an email at

About the Author
Rebecca is the National Organiser for the Jewish Labour Movement