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Student mental health & University responsibility

‘Why do you care about student mental health though, aren’t you just in it for the money?’

I’ve heard many variations on this question over the last year, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

It reflects the surprise that many people feel when they hear that I, and others like me in the private student accommodation sector, dedicate significant time and resource to student mental health and well-being.

Poor mental health and distress is much more likely to manifest itself in the home of the student than on campus. Whether it’s homesickness, a panic attack, or a more life-threatening problem such as an eating disorder, it will often be our teams that spot it first.

Student mental health and accommodation

The role of a private accommodation provider, in this case, is an unusual one. These activities play out on our premises. They directly affect our customers, our employees and sometimes our buildings, and yet we do not have the remedy: help for the core issue lies within the university.

This means we need to develop strong, trusting relationships in both directions:

  • With students, so that they know we genuinely care about them and will accept our recommendations to seek the necessary support
  • With universities and wider support services, so that we have up to date information and a good rapport with named contacts for each issue that students may be experiencing

Much more than ‘tea and sympathy’, those on the front line of student accommodation need an understanding of young people’s well-being, skills in active listening and good boundary management. Moreover, this work should be carried out within a safe and confidential professional framework to avoid dangerous mistakes being made.

All the big private accommodation providers are actively working in this area; Unite have been doing so for the last five years. The British Property Foundation’s Student Accommodation Committee is currently working on a good practice guide to help the whole of the sector contribute positively to student mental health, and I’m proud to be a part of that group.

To me, being active in supporting students’ mental health and well-being is both the right and the logical thing to do. Right, because if we can alleviate distress and suffering within our sphere of influence then we should. Logical, because businesses become successful by meeting the needs of all their stakeholders, not just their investors.

And it’s a little bit more personal than that too, because many of us have families. When we go home at night, it’s important to know that we work in a sector we’d trust with our own children.

I will be speaking at the Student Housing Conference on 31st January, please join me there to hear more about the work of the BPF student accommodation committee, and about Unite Students’ evidence based work on student wellbeing.

This article was provided by Simon Jones ahead of the Student Housing Conference – Thank you for your contribution.

Follow the conversation on 31st January with #StudentHousingConf

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