CE Safety sent Freedom of Information requests to all UK universities to find out exactly how many staff members had been trained in mental health first aid. The number of mental health first aiders varies greatly across UK institutions – but 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 wins third place, having trained 544 members of staff.

However, when looking at the number of MHFA staff compared to student population, Arts University Bournemouth tops the list, with 58 MHFA trained staff to every 1,000 students. The south coast continue to make up the remainder of the top three, with Plymouth University (26 MHFA trained staff per 1,000 students) and Falmouth University (25 MHFA trained staff per 1,000 students) taking second and third place respectively.

As well as the FOI requests, CE Safety also collaborated with several Mental Health First Aid experts to discuss how the recent A-level algorithm may have impacted students’ mental health, the common triggers that can affect mental health when going to university, red flags and other signs to look for in those heading to university, and practical mental health first aid advice on what to do if you notice that someone is suffering.

The experts explained that “any transition points in our lives bring us varying amounts of stress, and the move to University is one of those points. Difficulties such as moving away from established support networks for the first time, the cultural shock of being in a new area or country, academic pressure, financial worries, unprecedented debt and the uncertainty of the job market can all impact on student mental health.

“Noticing a change in behaviour is always key to identifying potential mental illness. However, initially nobody will know what someone is normally like. People left behind at home will be able to recognise change but may put it down to new experiences the person is having – it can be difficult at a distance”.

The very general traits of developing anxiety and depression are:

  1. Changes in mood – easier to cry or get angry
  2. Changes in eating habits – overeating/not eating
  3. Changes in sleeping patterns – difficulty to get to sleep/staying asleep/difficulty getting up
  4. Poor concentration – blurred vision
  5. Dehydration – do less use of the toilet and stronger smells of urine
  6. Isolation – not wanting to be with people (even people they like)
  7. More use of alcohol or engagement with drugs
  8. Lack of engagement in their course

Physical traits can include dark eyes, bloodshot or red eyes, pale or grey skin as well as a lack of interest in personal hygiene. Many of these are typical university student traits, but generally, if they are adding up there could be some serious issue.

If you are concerned about someone try and talk to them without judgement, to find out what is really going on for them. Being prepared to really listen is a great thing to do, to allow the person to get out what has been troubling them. If it is more serious signposting to medical or welfare services on campus and getting the information they need to access it can help.

Use the acronym ALGEE, a five-step action plan outlining the steps to take to support those in need:

  • A – Approach
    • Assess and assist the person with what they are struggling with. This can be a simple ‘are you okay?’
  • L – Listen and communicate non-judgmentally
    • See through the lens of those that have worries because by really listening, they know you will be paying attention and care for their needs
  • G – Give support and information
    • Mental Health First Aiders are equipped with plenty of resources that can help support and guide an individual
  • E – Encourage appropriate and professional help
    • For some this may be visiting a doctor
  • E – Encourage other support via their network of family and friends
    • Individuals may feel more comfortable speaking to loved ones instead of professional

Gary Ellis from CE Safety commented:

“With one in four people in the UK experiencing mental health problems each year, having a network of trained mental health first aiders is essential to any university. Training can help you to spot the warning signs of someone who may be in need of help and encourage them to get support to get through their time at university – and could even save a life”.

More information on the full research can be found here: https://cesafety.co.uk/solving-student-stress-the-universities-with-more-mental-health-first-aiders-than-any-other/