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20 February 2019
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More university students are experiencing mental health issues, which is affecting the way security services need to be provided, explains Steve Gardner.


04 December 2018 | Scott Taylor

University is often the first time that students are fully responsible for themselves and their property, with many being away from home in unfamiliar towns for long periods. 

This can be stressful and, as a result, there is an emerging demand at universities for a different kind of security beyond the industry norm.

What are these changes? 

There is now a greater emphasis on a security service that not only monitors and protects, but also assists with the maintenance of the ‘campus community’, and that includes students' well-being.

This is not to say that security on UK campuses is moving away from its ‘fundamental’ or ‘traditional’ purpose; after all, these facilities and assets will always need securing round the clock. But UK institutions now want a security provider that creates safe, secure and supportive learning environments. 

Why the broadening in scope?

There’s good reason for this shift towards a more ‘social’ kind of provision. As data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveals, a record 1,180 students who experienced mental health problems left university in 2014-15 (the most recent year in which data was available). 

This is a staggering 210 per cent increase from 380 students in 2009-10. Experts such as Ruth Caleb, chair of the Universities UK’s mental well-being working group, says counselling services among students are rising by roughly 10 per cent year on year. 

Caleb estimates there are currently 115,000 students seeking help and many commentators warn of a mental health crisis across UK universities that is in need of urgent attention. 

How much exactly the university experience contributes to students’ mental health is still unclear, but institutions want to do everything they can to turn 

the tide. 

How to achieve these changes

Universities want their security providers to help build a culture that puts students’ mental health and well-being first. These efforts are taking form in two main ways. 

1. Social call-ins

Security teams are now incorporating social call-ins to halls of residence. 

This kind of pastoral care has proved particularly effective in buildings housing international students, as they are often the biggest proportion of the student body that stay on alone over holiday periods. 

In a recent case, an OCS colleague who made a routine call to a residence discovered an international student who had run out of money with weeks to go until the term recommenced. Fortunately, this call-in simply involved ensuring that the student was able to contact his relatives abroad and secure some money to tide him over the holidays.  

In most cases, the call-in is as much a social courtesy – a ‘friendly face’ to make sure that students are safe and well. This will typically involve dropping in on blocks when out on a routine patrol, asking if everyone has been seen recently and if there is any help needed.

Other instances, however, can see the call-in take a more serious direction, where well-being support and first aid need to be carried out. 

2. Mental health first aid training

Service providers are including mental health first aid training for their personnel and engaging student services teams to ensure offerings line up with other efforts. 

An OCS security team at a major Welsh university, for example, has begun sitting in on student support meetings to determine if altered patrols can meet specific well-being objectives by providing greater presence on campus, more social call-ins to residences, or additional support with university social events. 

Key components of mental health first aid training include developing: 

 Ability to understand and recognise factors that can affect mental health and well-being;

 Practical skills to spot the triggers and signs of mental health issues;

 Confidence to step in, reassure and support a person in distress; and

 Skills to listen someone’s problems in a non-judgemental way.

We must not regard the development of this new type of security professional as a market demand but rather as an important moral obligation, which when met, will deliver better security and, ultimately, a higher standard of education.  

Steve Gardner is head of security at OCS