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 of 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.
In March 2021 Churchill College Council established a dedicated fund – the Student Wellbeing and Mental Health Fund – to promote and maintain the wellbeing and mental health of its students. Building support for this new fund will 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.
Uses of the fund will be used for, but not limited to, the following:
Through the establishment of this fund, it is hoped the College will be prepared to meet the current crisis and create an environment which is aware and supportive of mental health issues, and provide care for those who need it at this unprecedented time and in the future.
It would be extraordinary if the pandemic and its fallout did not produce major psychological effects on all of us and the effect is likely to be measured in years not months. It may remain hidden and only surface gradually. The most helpful thing at this stage would be to acknowledge the likely need and plan for it in a flexible way, such as seeking support for a general fund for student mental health support.
Tim Ellis (Churchill College Counsellor)
Churchill College has the most cohesive and dedicated student welfare team of any Cambridge College. We look after our students really well. But in a world in which students are feeling unprecedented pressures because of COVID-19, and in which a significant minority are presenting with complex mental-health needs, we need to ensure we have the resources in place to explore and sustain new initiatives around student wellbeing, and to provide superlative expert support when they need it most.
Richard Partington, Senior Tutor, Churchill College