Universities and local NHS services must improve mental health services for students to avoid failing a generation, academics and healthcare professionals have warned following the deaths of three students in as many weeks at Bristol University.
Ten students from the University of Bristol and two from the University of the West of England, which is also in Bristol, have died since October 2016, of which a number have been confirmed as suicides.
A frank discussion in Bristol and elsewhere is under way as both the quality and nature of care offered to students – who are particularly at risk of slipping through gaps in the health system – is examined.
Universities UK has called for urgent action to improve the coordination of care between the NHS and universities, in a report published yesterday.
This would make it easier for students to access care as they take on the challenges of higher education, independent living and making new friends.
Mental health support for students needs to understand these transitions and join up care around their needs, reads the report, Minding our Future. A major difficulty is that students’ health information rarely travels with them when they leave home for the first time.
The number of students dropping out with mental health problems has more than trebled in recent years, while the number of suicides among full-time students in England and Wales has jumped from 75 in 2007 to 134 in 2015.
Almost half of all school leavers now go on to university and with three-quarters of all mental illness developing by the age of 24 years, this period of young adults lives is crucial in shaping their future.
Students testimonies cited in the report demonstrated some of the failings of the healthcare system.
When I moved out of my home area to university, I could no longer access the NHS service I had been with for over a year because I was registered with a GP in another county, said one undergraduate. This was a difficult experience, which left me feeling uncertain of what services I could receive.
My mental health kept getting worse because of having to constantly retell my traumatic story to then only be told that a service couldnt help my specialist need, said another.
“The system of mental health care for students must be improve, said Professor Steve West, vice-chancellor of UWE Bristol and chair of UUK’s Mental Health in Higher Education Advisory Group, leading calls for national and local government, schools, colleges, the health service, voluntary organisations and universities to work together and better support students.
“Students must be at the centre of these partnerships and senior leadership within universities and the NHS must sustain the changes.
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.
The vast majority, 94%, of universities have experienced a sharp increase in the number of people trying to access support services, with some institutions observing a threefold increase over the past five years, according to research by the IPPR.
This has placed some under particular strain and there have been growing calls to improve investment in the area, which many universities are now doing.
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.
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