Put student mental health first, universities urged

By Melissa Tutesigensi

University heads nationwide have been urged to prioritise ‘non-negotiable’ student mental health.

The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Sam Gyimah, has stated that universities must start to prioritise student mental health.

In his letter to University Vice-Chancellors, the minister stresses the need for “leadership from the top.”

Gyimah’s comments come as mental health at universities in the UK has become an increasing concern. It has been revealed that at some UK institutions, one in four students are seeking help from counselling services.

In response to this growing demand for mental health support, Gyimah has announced a ‘University Mental Health Charter’ which will be drawn up with the help of mental health charities and university partners in order to promote mental health at universities nationwide.

A ‘University Mental Health Charter’ will be produced for the higher education sector

In his letter to university heads, Gyimah also proposed changes that could be made to help students. He suggested an opportunity for students to elect a friend or family member to be alerted in case of a mental health crisis.

The minister emphasised the responsibility of Universities to look beyond academia towards the pastoral care, stating: “There are some Vice-Chancellors who think that university is about training the mind and all of these things are extra that they don’t have to deal with.

“They can’t do that, they’ve got to get behind this programme. It can’t be something that belongs to the wellbeing department of the university. This requires sustained and serious leadership from the
top.”

“Student wellbeing should not be a separate ‘welfare issue’ or afterthought”

Recent statistics on higher education suicide rates collected by The Office for National Statistics have revealed that between July 2016 and July 2017, there were 95 recorded university suicides.

They also showed that the rate of male suicide is higher than female suicide.

In response, Assistant Director of Policy at Universities UK, John de Pury, has maintained that: “There is no room for complacency here. This remains an urgent challenge for universities and society.”

This nationwide mental health crisis, combined with the imminent expansion of Durham University, poses a challenge to Durham University’s mental health support system.

Welfare and Liberation Officer, Meg Haskins said: “We know that the NHS and our University support services are both over-stretched resources, but there needs to be some give in the provision of resources and care when it comes to the mental health of students if we are to make it a mentally healthier place.

The University Health centre, Nightline and College welfare services are also available for students to use.

“By this, I don’t just mean an increase in reactive resources such as counselling sessions or reducing NHS waiting list times, but rather that the University need to be proactive in recognising the need for a holistic approach to the wellbeing of students. Student wellbeing should not be a separate ‘welfare issue’ or afterthought, but rather it should be embedded in everything that this University does.”

Haskins highlights a number of facilities open to Durham students for support, including financial awareness sessions, meditation and yoga classes, ‘Calm to the Core’ sessions from the counselling services and online workbooks.

The University Health centre, Nightline and College welfare services are also available for students to use.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), Owen Adams, said: “The wellbeing and mental health of our students and staff are hugely important to us and we invest significantly in their pastoral care.

“Whether by reviewing best practice in the sector, listening to student feedback in our consulting rooms and offices, or speaking with student leaders and staff from our colleges, we are constantly thinking of ways in which we can better our support services for students and ensure they work effectively for those who need them most.”

Photograph: Andrew Urwin via Flickr

One Response

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  1. Dr Claire Horwell
    Oct 09, 2018 - 02:34 PM

    As Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Earth Sciences, I can say that we are also working very hard at a departmental level, to help students with mental health issues. In collaboration with the Counselling Service, we have written an easy-to-use ‘mental health protocol’ – basically a quick guide for staff – to immediately help students (and anyone else in our department) who are having a crisis. The protocol means that we can feel confident in the advice we are giving, the questions we need to ask, and we also immediately know who to contact to access further help for the student. This protocol has now been rolled out across the university’s departments. Students can feel confident that they are being looked after and have people, both in the colleges and in their departments, who can help them.

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