Fika founder calls on uk universities to adopt new, app-based approach to student wellbeing on university mental health day

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New emotional fitness app Fika promises to help students develop resilience, coping skills and active listening skills – improving their relationships and helping them achieve their goals

Call comes as UK’s largest ever university mental health poll reveals “alarmingly high” levels of anxiety, loneliness, substance misuse and self-harm in university students

Nick Bennett, the founder of student emotional fitness app Fika, has called on UK universities to try a new approach to student wellbeing this University Mental Health Day, as the UK’s largest ever university mental health poll reveals alarmingly high levels of distress and illness among UK students.

Fika is a new, app-based emotional fitness tool, helping young people develop resilience, coping skills, empathy and active listening skills – and offering guided packs to help users stay more emotionally in tune with themselves and others, through solo and one-to-one sessions. Fika launched last week, rolling out closed trial partnerships with the Universities of Coventry, Exeter, Lincoln and Manchester Metropolitan – and is already in conversation with many more universities nationwide.

Nick Bennett, Founder and CEO of Fika, said: “The world is emotionally out of shape. We all know the benefits of regular physical exercise, but what about the benefits of regular emotional exercise? At Fika, we are on a mission with our university partners to prioritise proactive emotional support for students, and help them prepare better for their transition into university and beyond, into the world of work.

“Depression, anxiety and loneliness are growing issues for UK universities, and student wellbeing services are struggling to cope with rapidly accelerating demand. We are calling on all UK universities to make contact with Fika and roll out our new, scalable, preventative, app-based approach to student wellbeing.”

A poll of almost 38,000 students published exclusively in The Guardian this week revealed that anxiety, loneliness, substance abuse and self-harm are growing issues across UK universities – with half of students reporting thoughts of self-harm (almost twice as high as reported rates in 2017); one in ten students thinking of self-harm ‘often or always’; four in ten using alcohol or drugs to cope with their problems; and 1 in 3 having experienced a psychological issue for which they felt they needed professional help.

Anxiety across the student population was also shown to be on the rise, with 42.8% of students reporting ‘often or always’ feeling worried; almost nine in ten struggling with feelings of anxiety; and a third (33%) reporting suffering from loneliness often or all of the time. More than one in five students said they had a current mental health diagnosis.

Speaking on University Mental Health Day, the Fika Founder emphasised the importance of shifting the narrative surrounding mental health from negative to positive.

Said Bennett: “As these new figures reveal alarmingly high levels of anxiety, loneliness, substance misuse and thoughts of self-harm – let’s admit we have a problem in the UK and then, critically, let’s do something about it. The sad fact is we’ve allowed our cultural focus and the language that stems from it to bind us to a negative perception of mental health and focus on cure, not prevention.

“We live in a self-made, algorithm-based echo chamber, and the internet is always listening – so if we use negative language like ‘am I depressed?’ or ‘I feel lonely’ in our instant messaging, internet searches and conversations, we will be served content which reinforces these negative feelings. If we change the narrative to a positive one: ‘How can I stay focused on my goals?’ ‘How can I build my resilience?’, ‘How can I improve my relationships?’, the impact, not only in the content we see online, but equally on our own emotional health, could be enormous.”

Fika borrows from the world of physical fitness, where the vernacular is focused on positive outcomes such as getting ‘fit’, ‘lean’, ‘muscly’ and ‘toned’, to apply the same rules to emotional fitness.

Says Bennett: “We need to accept our emotional muscles need training just as much as our physical muscles do. And we need to use positive, aspirational language to change our attitude to exercising our emotions. If having good empathy becomes the new six pack – suddenly developing active listening skills will become a lot more appealing to all of us.”

Fika has been endorsed by spokespeople across the universities of Coventry, Exeter, Lincoln and Manchester Metropolitan.

Roger Bretherton, Principal Lecturer (Enterprise) at the University of Lincoln, said: “As an academic psychologist who researches and applies the science of character strengths, Fika is the approach to mental health I’ve been waiting for. Emotional Fitness, as a concept, places the ability to care for ourselves and one another back in our own hands, by drawing on a wealth of evidence-based wellbeing practices that have been accumulating in psychology for the last few decades. It’s great to work with Fika and other university partners to develop an accessible, proactive and preventative approach to mental health.”