We need support to give support

May 27, 2005

Les Ebdon is correct to say that the number of students experiencing mental health problems is increasing (Why I... May 13).

However, he does not mention that the Government sees adult education as integral to "social inclusion" of the mentally ill.

People with mental health problems are frequently urged by mental health professionals to enter further and higher education - in two cases I'm aware of individuals claim they felt coerced into doing so.

As Ebdon makes clear, institutions can do only so much. Counselling services are nearly always overstretched and students often have a substantial wait for an appointment. Many services are reluctant to attempt to help students with what are thought to be severe problems because counsellors consider themselves out of their depth.

The mentally ill fill our prisons, and most of the major mental health charities maintain that mental health care is in crisis, as do many of the more outspoken practitioners. Faced with this appalling reality, one wonders how an underfunded higher education system is expected to support vulnerable people when the statutory services very often don't seem to.

Most academics are very sympathetic to the plight of students with mental health problems and I know students who have felt incredibly well supported by tutors and university support services. In one case, a student thought their university had been far more helpful than the mental health services.

But if the Government wants students with mental health problems to benefit from higher education, a laudable aim, universities need to be given the resources to develop the infrastructure needed to support these students, or the National Health Service needs to be a lot more responsive to their needs.

Sally Baker

University of Wales, Bangor

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