Tutors sit on mental health frontline

April 30, 1999

More than a third of personal tutors have recently dealt with student mental health problems, a Hull University survey has revealed. But some staff feel uncertain and anxious about tackling such problems.

Researchers from Hull's school of community and health studies surveyed local academics and held regional focus groups under a Higher Education Funding Council for England initiative on students with disabilities.

It found that 35 per cent of tutors had supervised students with mental health problems. About 60 per cent of the problems appeared to be minor, but staff described 28 per cent as "severe" or "life-threatening".

Project director Nicky Stanley said mental health problems were the "invisible disability". The stigma meant students were often unwilling to seek help and personal tutors were an informal and non-threatening contact.

"Many staff are already skilled, competent and doing a good job. But others felt very ill-prepared and anxious about their work in this area," Ms Stanley said.

"It is important to recognise that there are boundaries to the personal tutor's role. They are not expected to diagnose mental health problems or offer counselling and treatment, but to be a first line of response. They need knowledge of where and when to pass students on."

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