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Mental health care is letting down students, agree NHS and university leaders

Universities UK (UUK) is working with NHS leaders to improve mental health support for students.

UUK’s Student Mental Health Services Task Group has today (11 May) published Minding our future, new guidance to improve the coordination of care between the NHS and universities so that all students can access the care they need.

Almost half of all school leavers now go on to university. With 75% of all mental illness developing by the age of 24 years, this can be a time of vulnerability for these young adults. Research by the IPPR found that over the past five years, 94% of universities have experienced a sharp increase in the number of people trying to access support services, with some institutions noticing a threefold increase.

The Office for National Statistics reports an increase in deaths by suicide in full-time students in England and Wales from 2006 until 2016.

As students are becoming adults they are also taking on the challenges of higher education, independent living and making new friends. At the same time, they are moving between their homes and university. This means they may slip through the gaps in the health system when they are most vulnerable.

Mental health support for students needs to understand these transitions and join up care around their needs. A major difficulty is that students’ health information rarely travels with them when they leave home for the first time.

A ‘place-based’ approach, which involves responding to the needs of a local student population with NHS and universities and colleges working in partnership with local authorities, schools, businesses and the third sector, is already taking place in Greater Manchester, Bristol and North London.

Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol and Chair of UUK’s Mental Health in Higher Education Advisory Group, said:

“The system of mental health care for students must be improved.  Health services aren’t properly designed to help students as they move from home to university.  This is too important to ignore and we must not fail a generation by not doing what is required.

“I call on national and local government, schools, colleges, the health service, voluntary organisations and universities to work together. This will give us the best chance of supporting students through the significant transitions they face during their early lives.

“Students must be at the centre of these partnerships and senior leadership within universities and the NHS must sustain the changes.”

Commenting on Minding our future, Paul Jenkins, Chief Executive of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“We need to improve the links between local NHS services and the support that universities provide. It requires a partnership approach at the local level to assess needs and to design and deliver services for students.

“This research sets out students’ characteristics and vulnerabilities. It dispels commonly held misconceptions and describes opportunities.

“It is essential that these young people are provided with the right support at each step of the pathway.”

Universities UK published a framework to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of university students. The step change framework ­– part of Universities UK’s programme of work to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of students and staff in higher education – is aimed at supporting university leaders to help embed good mental health across all university activities.

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