For the first time ever, universities are ranked on more than just academic performance. In an effort to tackle the mental health crisis at the higher education level, men’s mental health charity HUMEN has created the first-ever mental health college league board. The table has the potential to save lives by forcing universities to take a closer look at the mental health support they offer. It will also allow students to make an informed choice about where to study. The chart was created with the support of mental health activist and author, Ben West.
Since 2016, over a four-year period, there have been at least 319 suicides at universities and higher education institutions in England and Wales alone. And suicide is the biggest killer of people under 35 in the UK. It’s tragic, but not surprising. While some students will arrive at college with mental health issues, others will crumble under the pressure of academic success, financial stress, and estrangement from loved ones. It therefore stands to reason that more than a quarter of UK students (37%) say their state of mental wellbeing deteriorated after starting higher education. A further 65% say their studies and college lifestyle have a negative impact on their state of well-being. HUMEN criticizes the government for its tiny university mental health scheme, which equates to around £1 per student and 1% of the funding needed to tackle the mental health crisis.
These are the kind of numbers that West is trying to reverse. In 2018, West lost his 15-year-old brother to suicide, and the terrible event prompted him to launch a mental health awareness and prevention campaign. He has since won the support of Prince William, Boris Johnson and his 48,000 supporters. Tackling poor mental health at the university level is her next mission. “The goal is to empower parents and students to make informed choices about where to study, and then over time we can get universities to improve their support through the power we hold as than consumers,” the author of “This Book Could Save Your Life: Breaking the Silence Around the Mental Health Emergency” wrote on her Instagram followers. West added: “Please check it out, send it to your friends, family or anyone you know who is considering applying to college. Please help spread the word, I don’t can’t bear the thought of having to meet another friend or family. It’s an awful, awful thought.
A year-long study of over 7,200 students at 80 universities is what enabled the charity to produce the HUMEN Mental Health League Table. The table uses an index rating system, which allows prospective students and their parents to compare universities based on satisfaction, engagement, awareness, funding, and service delivery. Each university is rated on each of these elements from “very poor” to “excellent” and is assigned a “total mental health score”. Currently, the University of Reading sits proudly at the top of the rankings. The Berkshire-based institution is closely followed by the University of Oxford, the University of Central Lancashire, the University of York and Canterbury Christ Church University.
The life-saving tool raises awareness that the “best” colleges are not necessarily the “best” when it comes to mental health. For example, universities such as the University of Birmingham (80th), Newcastle University (76th) and the University of Nottingham (73rd) are ranked in the bottom 10 despite their reputation for excellence. Reassessed every year – just like the academic charts – the mental health chart will be continually updated, giving universities the opportunity to move up and others to be dragged down if they don’t make efforts to improve their services.
The charity wrote on its official Instagram page: “The HUMEN Mental Health League Table is intended to sit alongside the purely academic league tables and will be produced annually, as are the academic league tables. Our students deserve better, their lives depend on it. We need this shared as widely as possible, please share this message using the hashtag #HMHLT One voice. Is anyone listening? @universitiesuk”
Although Gen Z is the generation most likely to open up about mental health, the terrifying numbers don’t lie and a mental health epidemic is underway. The invention of a mental health ranking could increase the noise needed to trivialize conversations about mental health. The mental health services offered at a university should be considered as important as the exam results received by its students, the size of its libraries and the nightclubs that populate the area. And this table will put pressure on those in positions of power to finally mobilize.