Students missing out on mental health support, warns college

Some students with mental health problems are missing out on support because of rising demand, the Royal College of Psychiatrists warns in a report today. And university cuts could spell worse to come.

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Some students with mental health problems are missing out on support because of rising demand, the Royal College of Psychiatrists warns in a report today. And university cuts could spell worse to come.

With thousands of students starting social work courses this month, the college said more investment was needed in campus-based counselling services and specialist mental health advisers.

The report highlighted particular risks facing students, including moving away from home, adapting to new environments and peer pressure to misuse alcohol and drugs. The peak age of onset of serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was between ages 18 and 25.

The increase in student numbers has fed demand for mental health support as has the rise in students from overseas and the wider social and cultural diversity of university populations. Students were also struggling with rising debt and fewer employment opportunities.

“Although there are some excellent support services for students, in many universities the provision of services has not kept pace with expanding student numbers – leaving existing services overstretched,” said Dr John Callender, consultant psychiatrist and chair of the working group that produced the report.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Leonard Fagin, who co-wrote the report, added: “There are concerns that universities are programming cuts that will affect provision of counselling and psychiatric services to students, preventing effective early intervention.”

The report’s recommendations include:

● All higher education institutions (HEIs) should have a formal mental health policy and offer training in the recognition of mental disorder and suicide risk to staff.

● HEIs should pay particular attention to vulnerable groups such as international students and those with a history of metnal disorder.

● Universities and the NHS should formulate joint local and national policies in relation to the well-being of students.

● The four UK government should provide special funding for dedicated GP student health services.

“Feedback from students suggests that a timely counselling intervention can enable improved academic performance and reduce drop-out rates, thereby saving the waste of individual potential and universities’ resources,” said Eileen Smith, report co-author and head of counselling at the University of Hertfordshire.

The report, Mental Health of Students in Higher Education, will soon be available on the college website.

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