Luciana Berger, Labour & Cooperative MP for Liverpool Wavertree, shadow minister for mental health:
“Today’s students face unprecedented anxiety and stress over money, accommodation, safety and job prospects. What should be a time of intellectual curiosity and personal development can be, for some, a time of uncertainty and worry. For many students, time at university is marred by a mental health condition. All too often, treatable, manageable conditions are made worse by stigma and prejudice. For some, mental illness at university becomes debilitating or even life-threatening. Despite the steps forward by campaigners, students unions and university authorities, we still have so much more to do to support students.
First, we need proper parity between mental and physical health services, so that patients in each are treated equally well. Second, we need greater understanding of mental illness from university and academic staff. Students with mental illness need guidance and support currently denied in too many cases. Third, we need greater awareness amongst students about the realities of mental illness, so no student is stigmatised or shunned. Across the country, mental services are under strain, especially those providing for young people. Ministers need to take note, and take action. One in four of us will experience some kind of mental illness in any year. We need a revolution in the way it is perceived and treated, and that includes in our universities and colleges.”
Geraldine Strathdee, National Clinical Director for Mental Health, NHS England:
“Mental health has risen up the political agenda, and on January 11th, 2016 the Prime Minister of England David Cameron announced that mental health is one of the top government pan party priorities in the ‘Life Chances’ strategy.
Universities, colleges and higher education are the places where our future leaders gather, it is where exciting programmes to help people better understand how to develop their own mental health and resilience, how to support each other as peers through good and challenging times and where how to promote psychologically healthy communities is developing.
My challenges are: Can we look to you to model physically and mentally healthy lifestyles, for this exciting generation to show us how it's done? How do colleagues think we can use the world of digital and social media to change attitudes to mental health in our society, and what's the appetite for online therapy and self-management tools?”
Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor, The University of Buckingham:
“Universities are at last waking up to their moral responsibility for their students’ mental health. There is so much more that they need to do to help ensure that their students minimise difficulties and maximise their flourishing and healthy enjoyment of university life.”
Sir Anthony has set out a 10 point plan for universities in tackling these issues: http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/latest-news/crisis-in-university-mental-health/
Lydia Pell, Chair: University Mental Health Advisors Network (UMHAN) and Mental Health Advisor, City University London:
“University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day was initiated by UMHAN in 2012 to increase national awareness of students who experience mental health difficulties whilst at university and to open up conversations amongst students, academics, mental health advisors, counsellors and external support agencies to think together about students’ support needs.
The role of a mental health advisor is to help students navigate barriers that may exist in the university environment in order to achieve their potential. Over the past six years one huge challenge has been to support students with this whilst NHS and 3rd sector services have been cut, meaning more students with complex needs are struggling to access psychiatric assessments or prompt diagnosis and treatment, making it even harder to study. Mental Health Advisors have been helping students to access specialist services alongside thinking about university and have often been the difference between a relapse and withdrawal of study vs stable mental health and achieving good degrees.
In recent years universities have become better at considering creative adjustments to support students with mental health conditions and my main hope for #UniMentalHealthDay2016 is that it encourages VCs and Pro VCs to think about whether they are driving creative inclusive teaching delivery and course design in their institutions which will remove barriers for many students with mental health conditions. I love the work I do because I get to see resourceful and resilient students demonstrate their ability and flourish academically and hopefully along the way reduce some stigma by being able to be open about their mental health on days like #UniMentalHealthDay2016”
Rosie Tressler, Chief Executive Officer, Student Minds:
“Just 5 or so years ago, only a handful of universities were marking University Mental Health Day, and only a handful of student mental health groups existed. To see over 60 universities delivering a range of collaborative activities today – students and staff, universities and health providers, cross-departmental projects - fills me with optimism. And we’re going to need it. There is a lot changing in student support that raises concern. Disabled Students Allowance has altered, and there is increasing demand for university services and referrals at a time when real spending on NHS mental health services has reduced. Across the sector, staff are responding by getting their #HeadsTogether with other colleagues to think about how we respond to these challenges.
My key recommendation, within a comprehensive whole - institution approach, is to listen to the student voice and explore opportunities to work with students. Peer support programmes are running in a good proportion of the sector now, in a range of forms from structured programmes to informal workshops, such as the Look After Your Mate workshops running at a number of institutions right now. But, as identified in Student Minds ‘Looking After A Mate’ research, students providing support need support themselves; they need help working out what their role is and how they can provide support while taking care of themselves too. Providing preventative opportunities for all members of the university community to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to look after their own mental health, is a crucial part of the jigsaw.”
Professor Jo Smith, Early Intervention and Psychosis and ' Suicide Safer' Project Lead at the University of Worcester:
“Intervention opportunities for young people are being missed in the unique social contexts of universities and colleges. Student mental health problems can have damaging long-term effects that for some, in the absence of effective early intervention, may lead to suicide. This has devastating impacts on family, friends and the university community, as well as other costs. Student suicide is viewed as a low frequency event (based on the limited data we have). Stigma and under-reporting reveal only the tip of the iceberg. Actions often focus on minimising impact when it happens, hoping each case is an isolated tragedy that will escape public attention and scrutiny. Suicide prevention efforts could work so much better where there is joint working between local health services, public health departments and universities to address student mental health difficulties. Universities should be recognised as an important agency that must be at the table when commissioning for a population’s mental health needs. At the University of Worcester we’ve started to take joint preventative actions in partnership with local health and public health colleagues. Partnering with national bodies like the NUS and Student Minds, we’re identifying student suicide as a neglected area that warrants attention.”
Ben Lewis, Chair, AMOSSHE; The Student Services Organisation:
“Student services are fundamental to how Universities respond to student mental health issues. We, together with academic staff and our students, work to ensure our campuses provide a safe place for students to learn and achieve to the best of their ability. Student services leaders face a three-fold challenge: expectation, complexity and resource.
Firstly, student expectations of the services our Universities provide have changed enormously. The consequence is an expectation that Universities will have the tools to ‘fix’ a situation, regardless of the nature of the problem. Secondly, AMOSSHE membership across the sector report the complexity of student mental health issues presenting in our Universities now routinely extends far beyond the traditional remit of student counselling. Finally, our members report growing resource issues. AMOSSHE surveys of our membership tell us that since the increase in tuition fees in 2010 there has not been a significant increase in resource to enable services to grow.
Student services must work creatively to meet demand. Our institutions need to consider what extra they can do to enable greater student resilience and to ensure risks to individuals are safely managed, including working closely with community organisations and pushing the agenda for adequate resourcing of local mental health services.”
Sean O’Shea, CEO of UPP, student accommodation provider:
“As a business working in long term partnerships with 14 universities, we provide homes for 30,000 students each year, most of whom have moved away from home for the first time. Concern for mental health has been rising both within the HE sector and more widely, and coming into contact with many of these students every day we believe we all have a role to play in addressing these incredibly important issues and improving the support available to all students. We are pleased to be working collaboratively with Student Minds, considering innovative ways that we can better support our own teams to help students as well as improve the student experience for everyone living in our residences.”
Ruth Caleb, Chair of Mental Wellbeing and Higher Education group:
“Universities have an important role to play in providing support for students with mental health difficulties. As Chair of the Mental Wellbeing in HE Working Group (MWBHE), supported by Universities UK, I and the entire working group are dedicated to supporting not just those students with diagnosed mental health issues but also the mental wellbeing of all members of the university community. To this end UUK published the Student Mental Wellbeing in HE Good Practice Guide (2015), written by MWBHE members, to offer a holistic view of mental wellbeing in institutions. It outlines the responsibilities for all university staff including senior management, and offers guidance in policy development, duty of care, legal considerations, support services, training and partnership liaison. Each university is different and the use of this guidance will depend on the nature of the student cohort and the particular challenges the institution may face. Our aim is to encourage and to inform further developments within individual institutions. I recommend that universities consider setting up a mental wellbeing working group to review and implement the recommendations set out in this guidance (available to download) to help them to monitor and evaluate outcomes.”
Shelly Asquith, NUS vice president (welfare), and Maddy Kirkman, NUS disabled students’ officer:
“The number of students experiencing mental health problems is on the rise. Student suicide is not an inevitable phenomenon within a sizable population but a serious issue that needs to be addressed rather than ignored. It is in the interests of the education sector and society as a whole to support students facing mental health difficulties and to create environments that are open and free of stigma. Our work needs to not only focus on the crisis in mental health support, but must look at the way in which academic and campus environments cause mental health problems in the first place.
NUS recommends investment in mental health services. When student numbers rise, investment should increase proportionately so no student misses out on the help they need. With the current strain on the NHS, embedded support provided by institutions is more important than ever. These services need to be safeguarded from cuts as they are fundamental to the student experience and should not be closed as a method of cost cutting. Ultimately, institutions need to take their responsibility for students' wellbeing seriously - we study to develop our minds, not damage them.”
For more information on University Mental Health Day visit: http://www.studentminds.org.uk/uni-mental-health-day-2016