New student mental health guidance for universities launched

Official guidance for universities on how to support students with mental health problems has been updated

February 13, 2015

The new Universities UK document takes into account “major changes” that have occurred in higher education and mental health treatment since the previous guidelines were published.

One such change is the increase in the number of disabled students declaring mental health conditions, which has climbed by about four percentage points over a five-year period.

The document, intended for the senior leadership of higher education providers, aims to make sure that universities are offering effective and accessible support for students.

About 1 per cent of first-degree undergraduates declared a mental health condition in 2011-12, according to the report Student Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education: Good Practice Guide. For postgraduate taught and research students, the figure was between 0.5 per cent and 0.6 per cent.

UUK last published guidelines on student mental health policies and procedures for universities in 2000. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of UUK, said: “Since we last published guidance in this area, there have been major changes to both universities and mental health treatment.”

She said: “For some students, an unfamiliar higher education environment can be stressful, particularly for those who already have an underlying illness. Some students are reluctant to disclose their difficulties, which can also present a challenge for universities seeking to support them.”

Ms Dandridge said that anti-stigma campaigns are now beginning to address both these issues but universities still faced a challenge in building on services that exist outside them, such as in the NHS for example.

“It is important to remember that university well-being services, however excellent, cannot replace the specialised care that the NHS provides for students with mental illnesses,” she said.

The guidelines offer 11 recommendations that should be embedded into planning and practice. Universities should set up task groups that include student representation to review the implications of the guidelines, and should work to create clear links with external support organisations, the report adds.

Institutions should also make arrangements for students with a history of mental health difficulties who spend time studying off campus. Mental health services offered by universities should be regularly assessed to ensure that they are adequately resourced and working effectively, it says.

Ruth Caleb, chair of the UUK Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Group, which devised the guidelines, who is also head of counselling at Brunel University London, said: “Universities have an important role to play in providing support for students with mental health difficulties. Over the past five years, we have seen an increase in the proportion of disabled students declaring a mental health condition.”

Between 2007-08 and 2011-12, the proportion of disabled people declaring a mental health condition increased from 5.9 per cent to 9.6 per cent, according to the report.

The document will be launched at a special UUK conference being held in London on 13 February on the issue.

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