By Pete Quinn, Independent Consultant to the HE sector

 

Although the theme of Mental Health Awareness week this year is about body image, how we think we are perceived by others in all aspects of our lives has a big impact on our well-being. Whether this is in the domain of academic, workplace, social or personal success; how we think others perceive us matters to many.

The 2017 World Happiness Report pointed out the importance of jobs and working to overall human wellbeing.

It noted: “The importance of having a job extends far beyond the salary attached to it, with non-pecuniary aspects of employment such as social status, social relations, daily structure and goals all exerting a strong influence on people’s happiness.” Recent studies have also gone further in understanding how much we need to earn to enable happiness (but beyond which levels of happiness seem not to rise meaningfully). Annual average income (as an individual) of around £72,000 is suggested to be the level needed to achieve ‘Life Satisfaction’; this would be higher for individuals with children.

Multiple studies show that unemployment has a strong and negative association with well-being and is why any job is arguably better than no job, at least from a well-being perspective. That is to say any work is more likely to give meaning and purpose than none at all. Multiple studies also show the link between financial debt and mental health. A report by the Centre for Global Higher Education at UCL noted that mental health appeared to be harmed by student loan debt, both during and after leaving university.

Recently Wonkhe commissioned research from Trendence UK which showed that the top four daily concerns of students were:

1. coping with the course
2. making the most of their time at University
3. their mental health
4. financial concerns

Most of these concerns can be mitigated by getting involved in extra-curricular activity – societies, sports, representation and events – all which the Wonkhe commissioned research found had a positive association with friendship and positive mental health and wellbeing.

A solution focused approach which addresses financial literacy will go some way as part of an all-encompassing approach to well-being. While many universities are moving towards a whole institution approach via the UUK #Stepchange initiative, progress on this is not rapid. The task of upskilling students, their parents and guardians with better financial literacy should be prioritised and be very clearly positioned in prospectuses and marketing information. With a better grasp of financial information and advice there is likely to be a reduction in worry and other barriers to living and learning.

So what’s to be done?

First thing is not to assume students (or their parents or carers) have a good level of financial, emotional or other literacies. On the former England and Northern Ireland are among the worst in the world in terms of financial literacy and schools have multiple curriculum pressures which do not enable financial literacy learning. Reliance on tech in relation to Maths is another issue. This doesn’t explain why Hong Kong is near the top of the OECD financial literacy table and England is near the bottom though.

Secondly, and more specifically and practically, Mind- the mental health charity, provide some very helpful proactive ‘Money and Mental Health’ resources on their website.

Finally an obvious, but not easy, aspect to this is to talk to someone about it. Most Universities have financial advice experts who are members of the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA). A problem shared is often a problem halved.

The impact on well-being of financial worries is well understood and we increasingly see examples of people talking about their worries and their mental health as the stigma and the negative perception is steadily reducing. So if you are worried about your finances, talk to someone, it’s actually a good look and may even be trending soon.