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Minding our future

Students may slip through the gaps in the health system when they are most vulnerable in terms of mental health. So says Universities UK in a report by UUK’s Student Mental Health Services Task Group. Its 21-page report points to a rise in common mental disorders in the wider young adult population, driven particularly by increased depression and anxiety in young women.

See more in the June 2018 print edition of Professional Security magazine on security management in unis, now shifting from purely crime prevention and locking and unlocking buildings and protecting assets, to a more pastoral and customer service role. Security patrol officers are often the first responders to incidents on campus or in halls of residence such as attempted suicide. The report notes a steady increase in the number of student suicides.

Almost half of all school leavers now go on to university. With 75 per cent 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 think-tank IPPR found that over the past five years, 94pc 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. The report calls for a ‘whole university approach’, to intervene early in mental illness or distress.

Mental health support for students needs to understand these transitions and join up care around their needs, says the report, titled Minding our future: starting a conversation about the support of student mental health. 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.

Prof 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.”

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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.”

See also the Equally Safe in Higher Education (ESHE) Toolkit.


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