The need for student mental health services has been rising year-on-year. Research has shown a 132 per cent increase in students seeking support. Supply, however, has not met this demand. Far from investing in student support, universities and colleges have faced cuts in counselling services, whilst students face a growing wait to access over-subscribed services. In the future, anxiety over increasing living costs and debt will only deepen this problem.
Poor student mental health is a deeply worrying indication of the current state of our education system. We need more and better services, available to all.
At the moment our institutions are not equipped to deal with this problem. We know that only 35 per cent of colleges have a mental health policy and the majority of colleges reported that only some ‘front-line’ staff had been given mental health training.
In the NHS, the funding that was directed to mental health services stood at 12 per cent in 2012 and since then this figure continues to decline. One in four people now will experience mental health problems, yet services that are available continue to be chronically underfunded. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 changed the way local services are commissioned. The changes included setting up local Clinical Commission Groups (CCGs) that decide where to allocate health funds. Students however are often under represented on CCGs meaning health care issues that affect students are not properly considered.
Additionally, recent cuts to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) have contributed to funding pressures on university services in England which in turn risks universities spending less on their mental health support services for students. Inadequate funding for and increased outsourcing of mental health services to private companies have negatively impacted the services that students rely on.
What we are doing about it?
We are conducting nationwide research to better understand how mental health affects our members and also ascertain what support services are available. The research will provide evidence NUS needs to make a compelling case for universities and colleges not to cut mental health provision and ensure students and their unions are equipped to challenge and support their institutions to improve support available. The research will also consider:
- The intersection of identity and access to quality, appropriate and accessible mental health services i.e. impacts the cuts to DSA have on access to mental health services for disabled students or how recent cuts impact mental health of Black, Women and LGBT+ students
- The key issues affecting students’ mental health and wellbeing such as employment, housing and finances and the impact of policies such as PREVENT.
We will also continue to work with and contribute to the Association of College’s Mental Health Portfolio group as well as continue to work with UUK on their guidance on mental health for universities. Student participation in their local Care Commissioning groups is a particular priority, and NUS will work with Student Minds to create guidance to facilitate the participation of students in their local CCGs. We will also work on increasing the capacity SUs have to assess the funding and quality of counselling services on their campuses through workshops and also provision of briefings, toolkits and ‘How To’ guides.
What can you do to help?
We are asking students to share their experiences through our national research project. We will be publishing ways in which you can participate in focus groups and online surveys later this year. Students’ Unions have a specifically important role to play, because statutory services often lack awareness of student life and NHS restructuring creates opportunities for institutions and SUs to build networks and work with external agencies, such as GP practices, NHS mental health services, and voluntary organisations. NUS will be looking to work with support students’ unions in finding ways work with CCGs to ensure that consultation with students is carried out and that students are aware of how to contact and influence their local CCG.
We are also encouraging students and Students’ Unions to lobby for proactive measures to reduce demand for support such as wellbeing and resilience initiatives.
You can find resources for your mental health campaign through our Welfare Zone. You can also find guides produced by our Disabled Students’ Campaign (DSC) here.