Calls for a Commissioner for Student Mental Health


In a report published today (Thursday, May 10) by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Brightside, Ross Renton has called for a Commissioner, who he says "should be tasked to create a model that cuts through organisational divides and compels schools, colleges, universities, employers and the NHS to be proactive, to collaborate, and to target resources where they will have a sustained impact".

The report, "Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director of Fair Access and Participation", explores the challenges facing the higher education sector and takes fresh thinking and new ideas from a variety of different perspectives.

One of those challenges is a growing crisis in child and student mental health and the need for a more co-ordinated approach.

In the report, Mr Renton says: "According to the Children's Society, serious mental health problems affect about one in ten children, with only 30 per cent receiving appropriate interventions. These unaddressed issues have, unsurprisingly, materialised within higher education.

"There has been a significant increase in demand for support services, with the Institute for Public Policy Research showing a fivefold increase in first-year students disclosing mental health problems within a decade. While it is right to recognise the significant commitment of institutions to support these students, it is often too little, too late."

Mr Renton says a Commissioner for Student Mental Health would cut through red-tape between organisations; for example, the issue of students in England only able to be registered with one GP practice.

"Many students are at their university address in semester time and then return home in holidays," Mr Renton said. "If a student is being medicated for a mental health condition then they need to be able to access services both in their university town and at home."

He added: "Mental ill health is something that is not going to go away, so we must have a more robust national response to ensure we give our young people the best possible start and access to the services they need, when they need them.

"There must be better mechanisms in schools to prepare pupils for university life and we need a more sustainable system of GP referrals to appropriate services."

Gordon McKenzie, Chief Executive at GuildHE, welcomed the call to appoint a Commissioner for Student Mental Health.

"Recent research from YouGov suggests one in four university students in the UK are experiencing mental health problems," he said.

"Good mental health care needs effective partnership between educational institutions and medical practitioners: bureaucratic barriers are no excuse for failing young people. Both local practice and government policy need to change to ensure all students who need it can access effective mental health support.

"GuildHE members are committed to supporting students experiencing mental ill-health and many, like the University of Worcester, stand out for their mental health and student wellbeing provision."

The University of Worcester has been pioneering multi-agency approaches to student mental health and suicide prevention for several years and is leading a major piece of research, recently backed by HM Government, exploring incidence and prevention of student suicide at UK universities.

In 2004, the University of Worcester was one of the first universities to appoint specialist Mental Health Advisors, who now work alongside the University's BACP (British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy)-accredited Counselling Service.

Worcester is one of a small number of universities with an identified suicide prevention strategy, bringing together the perspectives and expertise of staff from across the University, as well as external partners including Worcestershire County Council, Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust, Samaritans and Community First.

The University is working with other universities and national charities to support similar developments at other universities.