Module 4, Topic 2
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Theme 11: Residential Accommodation

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What does it cover?

  • University halls of residence
  • University arrangements with private halls of residence
  • Supporting students in private accommodation (houses & flats etc.)

Principles of good practice

11.1 Student accommodation provides safe environments that are positive for mental health and wellbeing.

11.2 Student accommodation supports every student to meet their physical and psychological needs and manage their wellbeing.

11.3 Student accommodation is inclusive and supports all students to find their friendship group and build a sense of belonging.

11.4 Arrangements are in place to recognise poor mental health and to refer students to appropriate support. This includes supporting accommodation providers and support services to collaborate and develop a shared understanding of provision, data sharing and signposting arrangements.

11.5 Accommodation staff are trained and supported in responding to student mental illness.

11.6 Universities provide support for students living with a peer who is experiencing significant mental illness and staff in accommodation who may be responding to student mental illness.

Why is this theme important and what matters?

Many students will spend more time in residential accommodation than in the classroom. As a result, residential accommodation can have a major bearing on student experience, mental health and wellbeing.

For any individual, ‘home’ is not simply a functional space and this is true of student accommodation [1].

We have an emotional relationship with the spaces in which we live, that impacts on our identity, sense of belonging, security and wellbeing (2).

Student accommodation is not just a place to eat, sleep and study. For students to thrive it must also be a place of belonging and meaning, in which they can relax, have fun and feel connected and safe.

Creating a sense of security and belonging in student accommodation is particularly important as it is, by its nature, a temporary home. Research has highlighted that this transitory aspect can have an unsettling effect and that friendships and living arrangements are crucial components in counteracting this and ensuring emotional well–being (1, 3).

There are a number of ways in which residential accommodation can promote positive mental health and wellbeing.

Access to daylight, warmth, comfort and design that promotes social interaction are important to maintaining good mental health (1). Student bedrooms in halls of residence must be places that enable good sleep. This requires the room to be maintained at the right temperature, the ability to ensure darkness and soundproofing to be sufficient to guarantee quiet (4), which may require building design to go beyond current building regulations. In order to create a home, students have a need to feel ownership of their own living space, through physically personalising it with their own possessions and decoration. Student accommodation can also provide a venue for psycho–education and community building interventions that support student wellbeing and social cohesion, (5–7).

Social relationships within student accommodation are important to wellbeing. Research has shown that the style, form and layout of student accommodation are key contributing factors in how residents form and maintain friendships (1). These findings suggest that reducing accommodation with shared spaces, such as flats that have shared kitchens and replacing them with bedsits may increase isolation, with negative consequences for wellbeing (5).

Students and staff in the Charter consultations identified relationship breakdowns with housemates and isolation as being particularly detrimental to mental health. This is supported by findings in the literature (8, 9). Students from non–traditional or minority populations, such as disabled students or international students may be more vulnerable to these feelings of isolation or exclusion within their accommodation. This may, therefore, require additional action on the part of universities and accommodation providers to ensure accommodation is inclusive and fully accessible for all (9–11).

Student accommodation is a place in which students must feel free from harm. Instances of bullying, sexual violence or harassment, drug dealing etc. can significantly undermine mental health (12, 13).

There is a need for universities to work with their students, accommodation providers and local authorities to ensure that all student accommodation is safe, appropriate, meets physical and psychological needs and is conducive to good wellbeing and academic study.

Given the amount of time students spend in accommodation, and the times of day and night they are there, it is not surprising that some of the most severe experiences of mental illness–including episodes of crisis, suicidal ideation, self–harm and acts to end their own life– happen in an accommodation setting (14). This can have negative impacts, not just for the student involved but also for the students they live with (7, 14). This highlights a need for clear protocols and well developed interventions and support.

Incidents like this can impact on accommodation staff – some of whom may also be students. Ensuring that staff in halls of residence are properly trained and supported, and that they are protected by clear and appropriate boundaries, is key if they are to ensure their own safety and the safety of others (14).

In responding to student need, the relationship between accommodation providers and university support services is particularly important (7, 14). Accommodation is an environment in which students experiencing poor mental health can be identified and effectively referred to appropriate support services. For this to be the case, it is necessary for accommodation providers to be aware of the support available, through universities and external services, and to have effective referral pathways in place (5, 7).

Suggested resources

British Property Federation – Student Wellbeing In Purpose–Built Student Accommodation

Student Minds – Student living: collaborating to support mental health in university accommodation


1. Holton, M. (2017). A place for sharing: The emotional geographies of peer–sharing in UK University halls of residences. Emotion, Space and Society. 22 pp 4–12
2. Blunt, A. (2005). Cultural geography: cultural geographies of home. Progress in Human Geography, 29(4), pp. 505–515. .
3. Brown, L. (2009). An ethnographic study of the friendship patterns of international students in England: An attempt to recreate home through conational interaction. International Journal of Educational Research. 48(3) pp 184–193 .
4. Orzech, K.M., Salafsky, D.B. & Hamilton, L.A. (2011). The State of Sleep Among College Students at a Large Public University. Journal of American College Health 59(7) pp 612–619
5. Brown, J., Volk, F. & Spratto, E.M. (2019) The Hidden Structure: The Influence of Residence Hall Design on Academic Outcomes, Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 56:3, 267–283. DOI: 10.1080/19496591.2019.1611590
6. Stanley, N., Mallon, S., Bell, J., Hilton, S. and Manthorpe, J., 2007. Response and Prevention In Student Suicide. Preston: University of Central Lancashire.
7. British Property Federation. (2019). Student Wellbeing In Purpose–Built Student Accommodation. London: BPF. . DOI:–%20DIGITAL%20COPY%20v3%20%21.pdf
8. Dusselier, L., Dunn, B., Wang, Y., Shelley, M.C. & Whalen, D.F. (2005). Personal, Health, Academic, and Environmental Predictors of Stress for Residence Hall Students. Journal of American College Health. 54(1) pp 15–24
9. Andersson J., Sadgrove, J. & Valentine, G (2012) Consuming campus: geographies of encounter at a British university. Social & Cultural Geography, 13:5, pp. 501–515. DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2012.700725
10. Fincher, R., & Shaw, K. (2009). The Unintended Segregation of Transnational Students in Central Melbourne. Environment and Planning. Economy and Space, 41(8), pp. 1884–1902. .
11. Holton, M. (2016). The geographies of UK university halls of residence: examining students’ embodiment of social capital, Children’s Geographies, 14:1, pp. 63–76. DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2014.979134
12. Evans, C. B. R., Smokowski, P. R., Rose, R. A., Mercado, M. C. & Marshall, K. J. (2019). Cumulative Bullying Experiences, Adolescent Behavioral and Mental Health, and Academic Achievement: An Integrative Model of Perpetration, Victimization, and Bystander Behavior. . Journal of Child & Family Studies, 28(9), 2415–2428. . https://doi––018–1078–4
13. Bastiani, F., Romito, P. & Saurel–Cubizolles, M.–J. (2019). Mental distress and sexual harassment in Italian university students. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 22(2), 229–236.
14. Piper, R. (2016). Student living: collaborating to support mental health in university accommodation. Oxford: Student Minds