Thursday 16-05-2019 - 14:00
The Welsh Government recently announced £2.3 million for mental health and well-being services for students in Wales. NUS Wales President Gwyneth Sweatman outlines where the money will be best spent.
When I was elected NUS Wales President last year, I made improving mental health and well-being services for students in Wales my priority campaign.
I did that because the modern-day student is under more pressure than ever.
Financial pressure has been intensified by rising tuition fees and almost a decade of austerity.
Academic pressure has been intensified by the growing commonality of a university education.
Social pressure has been intensified by instant communications and the social media age.
Research has shown that one in four people will suffer from mental ill health in the UK in any one year. We also know that mental health problems cost the Welsh economy £7.2 billion every year and that self-harm is a significant problem here in Wales.
Against this backdrop, we need strong, well-resourced mental health services to support students and young people.
The launch of my campaign coincided with World Mental Health Day on 10 October, the theme of which was ‘young people and mental health in a changing world’.
This week, 13-19 May, is Mental Health Awareness Week, which seems an appropriate time to reflect on my student-led campaign conducted in partnership with sector colleagues.
The Welsh Government recently announced £2.3 million for Wales’ higher education regulator Hefcw to administer for improving mental health support services for students.
While this money is very much welcome, for now it is a one-off funding stream. We want high-quality, sustainable mental health services for students in Wales.
To guarantee this, NUS Wales is calling for multi-year funding that will truly enable innovation and deliver for students.
This would safeguard mental health services in universities and ensure change is truly sustainable and transformational.
But the money also needs to make a short-term impact to address the mental health crisis in our universities.
Students must be able to see and feel the impact of the £2.3 million investment in their university experiences.
At NUS Wales Conference in March, we convened a mental health round table with Hefcw. Representatives from further and higher education discussed the main issues facing student mental health and where investment would make the greatest impact in Wales.
We were told of a lack of training for frontline staff in post-16 education. Teachers, lecturers and support staff are students’ first point of contact and it’s crucial they are well trained to recognised and support students showing signs of mental ill health.
Another issue is a lack of services available bilingually. We know that people respond better to treatment if services are available in their first language, so securing high-quality services in both Welsh and English is a crucial goal.
Another common theme was a lack of tailored resource and support for students online. We want public and private services, such as the digital mental health platform Big White Wall, to adapt to the specific needs of students in Wales and to be adopted by students’ unions.
These are three asks for short-term improvements that can be achieved quickly and within Hefcw’s £2.3 million budget.
The round table showed clearly that there is still a long way to go to secure adequate, consistent and quality mental health services for students.
While the narrative around mental health is improving all the time, good intentions and warm words are no good without long-term action to solve the mental health crisis.
I’m coming to the end of my time as NUS Wales President but I’m so happy that my successor, Rob Simkins, has made student mental health a priority for 2019-20.
I’m confident Rob can build on the progress we’ve made this year and continue to deliver improvements for students. The fight for better mental health services is far from won, but we’re in such a strong position to deliver more success.