NHS and universities work more closely on student mental health

Funding boost for new partnerships to ensure those moving to a new location get the help they need

June 20, 2022
Mental health

Up to £3 million is being invested in ensuring UK universities work more closely with NHS mental health services to make certain students who are struggling get the help they need.

Amid fears that students are “falling through the gaps” and facing delays in accessing services when they move to a new location to study, regional partnerships are being created, including setting up physical hubs on campuses.

These hubs – already in operation in Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield and London – allow universities to refer their students to be assessed and then directed to any further support they may need.

Vice-chancellors have long called for more funding for mental health services, particularly after concerns over student well-being were heightened during the pandemic. A recent survey found mental health issues remain by far the biggest reason why students may have considered quitting their course and that nearly one in four say they feel lonely all or most of the time.

It is also feared that mental health issues may still be significantly under-reported, with men and learners from an ethnic minority background among those least likely to seek help. 

A lack of communication and coordination between the NHS and universities has been seen as exacerbating the problem, with reports of students being discharged from crisis services without anyone at their university being made aware.

Higher education minister Michelle Donelan said that although moving to a new place is “one of the most exciting parts of going to university”, it can “create barriers” for students in accessing mental health services.

She said she hoped to bring together university and healthcare representatives to “close any gaps” so that “all students can get the help they might need as they transition through university and beyond.”

“This government has prioritised student mental health because we know how important it is for students to feel supported – good mental health can affect their studies, boosting attainment and outcomes and helping them towards their bright futures,” she added.

The initiative – being run in conjunction with the Department for Health – follows the appointment of Nottingham Trent University’s vice-chancellor Edward Peck as student support champion, tasked with ensuring universities can spot the first warnings signs that students may be suffering with their mental health.

All universities are also being encouraged to sign up to the University Mental Health Charter, led by Student Minds, which aims to improve standards of practice across the sector.

A 12-week call for evidence has been launched to allow people of all ages to give their views on what can be improved in mental health service provision across the country. The findings will feed into a new 10-year plan that seeks to put mental and physical health on an equal footing.

Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students, welcomed the funding but said it only amounted to around £1 per student, which she called a “drop in the ocean”. 

“Students have been campaigning for increased funding to university welfare services and culturally competent care for many years now, and although we’ve seen additional funding for institutions as a result of our efforts, there is still so much progress to be made,” she said. 

tom.williams@timeshighereducation.com

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