Standards are still required for university mental health practices

Starting university can be challenging – students are stressed by high expectations – their own and those of others – yet there are students must adjust to a new way of life: new leaning methods,  living in halls yet often without any friends – it’s is easy for some to just hide away.

Ceara Thacker, 19, committed suicide in her halls of residence at the University of Liverpool in May 2018. She had previously attempted to kill herself by taking an overdose. Her family were not told of the earlier suicide attempt. Iain Thacker, Ceara’a father, insisted it would have “made a difference” if they had known about an overdose just three months earlier. Some universities are trialling an opt-in scheme, whereby students allow the authorities to tell their parents if they develop problems, to help ensure their families know and can help to support them… yet not all.

It seems that there is little monitoring of the wellbeing of students – and not way to catch any sudden deterioration.  Surely our universities could recognise that families can provide significant support to students experiencing difficulties – the impact of  preventing such support can be devastating.  Why is it not already mandatory, that as part of enrolling at a college, a student must register a family member to be notified of [specified] serious health issues?

The problem of student mental health issues is rising – and quickly . A survey of 2,573 first-years, conducted by Unite Students, found that 17 per cent of respondents reported suffering from anxiety, depression or another mental health condition – up from 12 per cent in 2016. Yet only 23 per cent said they trusted their university to provide them with the right level of support.

This week, Sir Norman Lamb, the ex-health minister, published the results of his research to show that students with mental health problems are being forced to wait up to 12 weeks for help from their university…  prompting fears that some may take their own lives during the delay – as reported in The Guardian:

Undergraduates at the Royal College of Music in London had to wait the longest to start counselling last year, with the worst case being 84 days. “Twelve-week delays to start counselling are scandalous, particularly when we know that so many students are taking their own lives,” said Sir Norma. “That’s longer than a university term. It’s extraordinary that some universities are subjecting students to such long waits and failing their student populations so badly. Universities with these long waiting times need to remember that students suffering from mental health conditions very often need help as a matter of real urgency. The risk is that their mental welfare will decline even further while they wait and wait for care and support.”

That average delay of seven-and-a-half weeks was seen at the University of Bristol despite its mental health support for undergraduates coming under scrutiny as a result of the suicide or suspected suicide of 12 students there in the last three years.

The Guardian reports:  “Universities have been heavily criticised for the mental health provision they offer undergraduates, as the number of them seeking help has soared in recent years. Students’ struggles can lead to them dropping out, doing poorly academically or killing themselves. An estimated 95 students in higher education took their own lives in the 12 months to July 2017 in England and Wales… Reported student mental ill-health has increased fivefold since 2010. Research has found that one in five (22%) students has been diagnosed with a mental ailment and that even more (34%) have struggled with a psychological issue with which they felt they needed professional help. In addition, 45% use drink or drugs to help them cope with problems, 43% worry often or all the time and 9% think about self-harming often or all the time.”

Tom Madders, campaigns director at the charity YoungMinds, was quoted by The Guardian: “It is very worrying that there is considerable variation in the level of mental health support offered at universities around the country. Counselling for students should not be a postcode lottery. Many young people start university expecting to have the time of their lives. But for some it can be a stressful experience: moving away from home, financial difficulties, problems with your course, making new friends and changes to your support network can all pile on the pressure.”

So when is the Department of Education,  perhaps through its the Office for Students, going to impose safeguards and minimum standards to be delivered by universities – insisting on  disclosure to a nominated contact and establishing minimum referral times?

The BBC quoted a spokesman for Universities UK – some kind of grouping of Universities –  said: “Funding to support mental health services at universities will vary depending on the needs of each student population. Universities cannot address these challenges alone. The NHS must provide effective mental health care to students, and Universities UK is working closely with NHS England to ensure that commitments in the NHS long-term plan are implemented.”

Hmmm… it sounds like they are passing the buck. I wrote about this before… back in july 2018: Student mental health must be top priority – Universities Minister Sam Gyimah says issue requires serious leadership from vice-chancellors .  The then Universities Minster, Sam Gyimah, was calling for  the universities to introduce as schemes to notify the families of students experiencing problems – and yes, he seemed to be suggesting that the universities were not accepting a leadership role in sorting things out.  Worryingly, the quote from the universities (in the form of “Universities UK mental health in higher education advisory group”)  suggested the that they were passing the buck even then.  Yet how many more suicides will it take before the universities to step up?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *