The Duchess of Cambridge visited first-year students at the University of Derby ahead of World Mental Health day as undergraduates across the UK face a turbulent start to their studies amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Kate travelled to the Midland's city to meet undergraduates to find out how the beginning of their university life has been affected by Covid and how well they were being supported.
The duchess arrived wearing her trademark floral mask in line with rules for students and staff in communal areas.
Her visit Tuesday came as Universities UK, which represents 139 institutions , published a new checklist to help universities support student wellbeing during the autumn term, which include ensuring students have access to basic necessities during self-isolation, including food, laundry services, cleaning materials, bin bags, tissues and toilet rolls.
A surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks has led to thousands of students having to self-isolate in their halls at some universities, with some hanging signs out their windows saying they did not have food.
More than 50 universities in the UK have confirmed cases of coronavirus as students return to campus, with students self-isolating at Manchester Metropolitan and Glasgow University.
Nearly 500 students and staff at Sheffield University have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of term, and more than 750 students are self-isolating at Northumbria University after testing positive.
The National Union of Students (NUS) has warned that undergraduates being “trapped in halls” could exacerbate mental health issues.
The duchess’s visit to the university’s main Kedleston Road site ties in with World Mental Health Day on Saturday.
Her first discussion was in a socially distanced circle where Kate asked representatives of Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, if there had been an “increase in awareness” among students of mental health help.
Students Husna Hanif and Laura Oliver, both 18, told the duchess they had “kept busy” during lockdown – adding that it was “hard not seeing friends”.
She asked the pair if there was enough support at the university – to which Ms Oliver replied: “There’s so much support.”
“That’s great to hear,” Kate said.
The duchess also heard about Student Minds’ Student Space initiative, a new resource created to support students during the pandemic, which offers information and direct help by phone and text.
The 24/7 text service using trained volunteers is delivered in partnership with Shout, an initiative from the Royal Foundation’s Heads Together mental health campaign.
Kate was told that nursing students have been buddied up with fellow students in the year above to provide them with peer support during challenging clinical placements, and that the university has trained its sports societies to enable students to support their teammates’ mental health.