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Huge increase in demand for mental health support among higher education staff

23 May 2019

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has published today a new report, which exposes a significant increase in the number of university staff accessing support from counselling and occupational health services.

Much has been written about the poor mental health and wellbeing amongst large numbers of higher education students, including student suicide.  However, until now the scale of poor mental health amongst university staff has been largely hidden.

In 2018, Times Higher Education reported on a study by Professor Gail Kinman, a specialist in occupational health psychology, which concluded that university staff experienced more stress-related illness than police or medical personnel.

Pressure Vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff authored by Dr Liz Morrish draws upon new data obtained from 59 universities via FOI requests.

HEPI’s new report highlights that,

  • at one institution, the increase in referrals to occupational health since 2009 was 424%
  • another university recorded a rise in referrals to counselling of over 300% in the same period

What has driven this increase in demand for support?  It is clear that continued high workload pressures, unrelenting pressure to compete in league tables, and the insecure work environment of short term or temporary contracts have all contributed. 

Dr Julie Hulme a member of the Society’s Senate Expert Reference Group and Reader in Psychology at Keele University said,

“We need to be thinking at whole institution level, a whole system approach, not just about students - because individuals and systems very much depend on each other in the area of wellbeing.

It's also worth thinking about the impact of supporting students with mental health challenges on staff”. 


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