Gaps in student mental health services to be tackled

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Students are set to benefit from better join up of mental health services to prevent them falling through the gaps at university.

The new scheme will bring together university, NHS and mental health services to create regional partnerships which could include physical hubs that students can visit in-person.

In the past, students may have suffered from delays in accessing mental health services when they have had to move location to study. By joining up these services to better communicate, students can be supported in their mental health, enhancing the quality of their university experience and their likelihood of success in the future.

Minister for Higher and Further Education Michelle Donelan and Minister for Care and Mental Health Gillian Keegan will today bring together representatives from across the higher education and healthcare sectors to launch the new scheme and showcase examples where integration is already underway, sharing of effective practice, and lessons learned.

The government is investing up to £3 million over the next academic year with the initiative set to help ease the pressure on the NHS and higher education providers.

Minister for Higher and Further Education Michelle Donelan said:

Moving to a new place is one of the most exciting parts of going to university but can create barriers for students in accessing mental health services.

We have brought together university and healthcare representatives to close any gaps between universities and NHS services so that all students can get the help they might need as they transition through university and beyond.

This government has prioritised student mental health because we know how important it is for students to feel supported – good mental health can affect their studies, boosting attainment and outcomes and helping them towards their bright futures.

Minister for Mental Health, Gillian Keegan, said:

It’s vital young people are able to access support early and this initiative will boost collaboration to ensure they get the help they need.

We’re already accelerating the roll out of Mental Health Support Teams in schools and colleges and expanding community services for children and young people through £79 million of investment.

I encourage everyone of all ages to respond to our call for evidence to inform our new 10-year mental health and wellbeing plan.

Attendees at the roundtable including the Office for Students (OfS), Russell Group, Million Plus and NHS England will hear from universities who are leading the way in connecting NHS and university services and providing one-on-one support for their students.

Commenting on the Government's announcement that up to £3 million will be invested in closing the gaps between university and NHS services, NUS UK President Larissa Kennedy said: 

“For years, NUS has lobbied for joined up university and mental health funding; this is a win for students. However, whilst it’s welcome that the Government have listened to us and acknowledged their responsibility for doing more to tackle the student mental health crisis, this support amounts to just roughly £1 per student. That’s a drop in the ocean, and more needs to be done to tackle this problem which is getting worse for students and young people. We know from our research that the majority of students are burdened with anxiety. 

“Students have been completely overlooked by those in power and this broken education system is pushing them to breaking point. We’re hearing from students who can’t even afford to continue getting the bus to therapy sessions. The Government should introduce rent protections, offer basic levels of maintenance support, and announce a cost of living payment for all students. 

"Students have been campaigning for increased funding to university welfare services and culturally competent care for many years now, and although we’ve seen additional funding for institutions as a result of our efforts, there is still so much progress to be made. Universities are not separate from wider society. It is absolutely vital that the Government commits to fully funding the NHS so that waiting lists and costs for mental health services, medication, GP letters and diagnosis tests cease to be a barrier for anyone. The Government must also urgently commit to providing early support hubs which would prevent thousands from reaching crisis point, and additionally remove the pressures of competition, financial barriers and discrimination from our education system so that these issues can be tackled at the root".

Five locations – Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield, and North London – have developed approaches to bring together services into a physical hub that students can visit, funded via the OfS challenge fund. For example, the Manchester clinic, based at the University of Manchester with satellite clinics at the University of Bolton and University of Salford, works in partnership with the region’s five universities and is supported by the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership. Services are accessed via a referral from university counselling services, providing a full range of mental health assessment, support and interventions to students.

This follows on from the appointment of Edward Peck as the Student Support Champion who will help ensure universities are tackling the issues that matter for students and help support universities to spot the first warning signs of students suffering with their mental health.

This role will also feed into cross-sector collaboration to tackle the issue of student mental health including the excellent work from the University Mental Health Charter, led by Student Minds. The charter works with student and universities to improve standards of practice around addressing mental health issues and Minister Donelan has set out her ambition for all higher education providers to sign up to the programme within the next five years, if not sooner.