#StudentTransitions: Improving support for student mental health

Later today Student Minds Founding Director, Nicola Byrom, and trustee, Eleanor Hambly, will be meeting with Norman Lamb to present our University Challenge report and petition. We’d like to thank all of you for your ongoing support, from taking part in the research surveys to responding to our consultation or signing the petition. In just over two weeks we have collected almost 1,500 signatures and we’ve been inspired to read all of your comments about why the campaign is so important to you.

With over a million students spending half the year at home and half the year at university each year, it is clear that we need to start responding more flexibly to the needs of a transient student population. We’re hoping that today’s meeting will mark the beginning of a series of changes to improve access to care for students across the country. Whether you’re a current or future student, a university or NHS professional, a parent concerned about your child or a member of the public who wants to help make a change, please join us by calling for this important issue to be addressed.

What’s the issue?

A postcode lottery for student support exists. Whilst there are some great examples of best practice in a number of larger university cities, in many parts of the country students are facing particular problems accessing support services. Of the professionals we surveyed, 92% felt that a student’s treatment is negatively affected by moving between home and university and 96% felt that students do not get specialist care as quickly as they would like. There are a number of issues at play, but a key problem is that NHS commissioners often aren’t aware of how many students are in their area and where they are at different times of the year, so many do not take this into consideration when funding services.

Cropped Inforgraphic

What are we asking for?

We’re calling on the Department of Health to support the development of best practice guidelines for all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) on how to support transient student populations. We have spoken to a number of CCGs that welcome further input in this area and are enthusiastic about improving student access to support, but central action from the Department of Health is necessary to help commissioners access the resources they need to make changes.

“My daughter is in her first semester of her first year at university… our experience is a disjointed, complicated, stressful and timely one, with my observation that I have provided the role of case worker to help join up the dots, communicate and facilitate her best use of the help that’s out there. I can see how a sufferer can very easily slip through the net without this support and motivation. Any change to address this would be helpful.”

Why students?

Today, 49% of young people enter higher education. According to NUS, 20% of these individuals are experiencing a mental health problem. In 2011, The Royal College of Psychiatrists called for NHS providers to ‘recognise and respond to the particular mental health needs of the student population and the difficulties that many experience in gaining equal access to services’. Our research has shown that this isn’t happening fast enough. Too many students are falling through the gaps between home and university support services, with their care being compromised by a lack of continuity and the need to go through a new assessment process and build up a new therapeutic relationship each time they move to a new service and see a different professional.

“It is hard for people with mental health needs to ask for help, even without the increased stress of being split between two locations, frequent changes of address and learning to do things for yourself (maybe for the first time in your life). Whether it is dealt with rightly or wrongly will impact the rest of their lives. Let’s give students the chance they deserve!!”

At the same time, students are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems and university can be an intense environment with significant academic pressures and expectations combined with the challenges of leaving home for the first time and living independently. If we can ensure that students have access to appropriate support early on then we can help prevent the development of longer term mental health problems.

Why now?

Over the past few months Clinical Commissioning Groups have been developing their local strategies. Their five-year plans will be signed off from April 2014, so this is a great opportunity for us to ensure that the particular needs of students are taken into account.

Transitions Campaign

What next?

Later today we will be meeting with Norman Lamb, the Minister of State for Care and Support, to present our research report and petition. We are hoping to secure a commitment to produce best practice guidance for supporting students in collaboration with Clinical Commissioning Groups, and to ensure that student needs are represented on CCG panels. After the meeting we will have a clearer sense of what action we can expect from the Department of Health on this issue. If the project goes ahead as planned, the next stage of the campaign will involve lobbying to ensure that local changes are being made, adopting a collaborative approach to benefit students across the UK.

Please show your support by signing the petition: www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/doh-address-the-gap-in-student-mental-health-support

You can find out more about the #StudentTransitions campaign on our website: www.studentminds.org.uk/transitions-campaign.

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