“I didn’t know it would be like this, I thought it would be easy to make friends.”
Matt came to us a couple of months after he began living in one of our London halls. He was struggling with isolation, depression and anxiety.
Matt had found it difficult to make friends with his flatmates and other students, and spent most of his time alone in his room. He was also initially struggling to find mental health support. He was thinking about dropping out of university.
Matt’s story is not unusual. We surveyed 6500 students in 2016 and found that social integration and knowing where to find help were both very important to student wellbeing.
We published our findings in a 2017 report, Student Resilience, and since then, we’ve been on a non-stop mission to help students find their community and their support network.
Over the last year we’ve worked in partnership with AMOSSHE, the Student Services organisation, to develop a Resilience Toolkit. It launched in early February this year, and brings together proven resources and interventions to help students develop social and support networks, as well as resilience skills.
We’ve also supported four research projects which will develop new approaches to improving student resilience and community in student accommodation. These will be published in the autumn.
For students who live with us, we’ve been able to go even further.
We know that coming away to university can be daunting. The first few days and weeks are critical to settling into the student community. However, our 2017 research with over 2000 applicants found that about half of students didn’t feel confident about living with people they didn’t know – which is something most first years have to do.
Our App now offers students the chance to chat with their flatmates before arrival, using a secure and moderated chat room. It takes the guesswork out of students trying to find one another on social media, and our teams reported that it seems to give students more social confidence when they arrive.
From September 2018, our Student Ambassadors will be there to welcome students to their accommodation and give them structured opportunities to make friends through events and activities. Pilots have shown that this is especially helpful to students who are less socially confident.
We have a goal that all students who live with us will know where to go for help if they need it. All our teams have local contact details for university and NHS services, both of which are also held on our App and by our national contact centre.
We have also partnered with Nightline to provide a valuable student-led listening service available to all students who live with us, even in cities with no local Nightline service.
Our vision is for all new students to make the easiest possible transition to university, by finding like-minded others and developing strong social and support networks. Our research shows this would make a big difference to their wellbeing and retention.
I’m pleased to say that Matt’s story ended happily; he stayed at university, found the right mental health support and is currently studying successfully for his Master’s degree. We’d like every struggling student’s story to end this positively.