Churchill College’s provision for student welfare is second to none, but in recent years new challenges have emerged in respect of student mental health to which the College is having to respond. Even before coronavirus struck the College was already seeing a significant rise in student demand for counselling. Across the last five years, student access to professional mental-health support in Churchill has increased by well over 60%, an increase echoed in the wider University.
In general we believe our students are as resilient as they were five, ten or twenty years ago, but with changing public attitudes they are more aware of their mental health and more willing to seek assistance where they need it. We are also dealing with the impact from the COVID-19 crisis, which latterly has undoubtedly set the mental health of some students back. The College’s Tutors and wider welfare team are doing their best to mitigate this. The College now employs two (part-time) counsellors and a College Nurse with counselling expertise. Students also have access to the University Counselling Service and to additional online support, both of which the College also funds.
However, we need to build initiatives better to foster student wellbeing, as well as responding with maximum effectiveness to low points in student lives. This will require extended consultation, analysis, imagination and financial commitment. Students can face significant challenges around the academic pressure, social burdens, financial worries and concerns about their families – as well as problems rooted in their earlier lives. We need to enable them to build strategies to make the most of their time in Churchill; and we need to be there for them with the very best and most expert professional support if crisis hits.
The Student Wellbeing and Mental Health Fund
In March 2021 Churchill College Council established a dedicated fund – the Student Wellbeing and Mental Health Fund – to give the College the flexibility to create an enhanced programme of care and activities directed at the wellbeing and mental health of our students. This will be achieved by funding additional paid-for specialist advice and therapy as well as providing funding for Fellows, staff and students to increase awareness of mental health issues. Building this fund will also enable the College to provide access to activities and support likely to foster and sustain student wellbeing and mental health, both for individuals and for groups of students.
As we face the fall-out of the pandemic, it is vital that the College has the funds available to support the mental health and wellbeing of our students. If we can do this, we can help ensure that the best young minds can continue to thrive here.