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Student mental health support must improve, universities told

Universities are being told to “dramatically improve” support for students with mental health issues.

The government is announcing it will award a certificate of excellence to institutions which meet new standards of mental health care.

It also wants universities to give students an opt-in service for vice chancellors to contact parents.

This would mean if students find themselves in a mental health crisis their relatives can be alerted.

Earlier this week, the Office for National Statistics published data suggesting 95 students took their own lives in England and Wales in the 12 months to July last year.

Universities minister Sam Gyimah is to outline the criteria that institutions need to meet to gain the recognition and is urging them to sign on to the “best practice” charter.

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It will reward institutions that show they are making student and staff mental health a priority, and have improved mental health and wellbeing outcomes.

Officials will be working with charity Student Minds, Office for Students, Universities UK and the NUS among others to draw up the charter.

Mr Gyimah said some universities are doing well, but there are others that “have a way to go”.

“We want to make sure that every young person at university is better supported in the future, as far as their mental health and wellbeing is concerned,” he said.

‘I felt abandoned’

Holly Moyse, 24, suffered from depression and an eating disorder which worsened when she started at the University of Derby.

“Things started to escalate because of it being such a big change in my life,” she said.

“Moving from Birmingham to Derby… that pressure of making new friends – it just added to it and my health started to deteriorate.”

Holly stopped socialising and became obsessive about her weight and exercise. She reached crisis point at the Christmas of her first term and made the university aware.

She was offered six counselling sessions but once she had used them up, they suggested where she could follow up and left her to her own devices.

“I just felt abandoned really. I didn’t have any support and I felt like I couldn’t tell my friends, I felt like I couldn’t tell my family about it. So I kept going down this slope of poor mental health,” she said.

“I was feeling quite isolated at the time, mainly because I felt no-one understood what I was going through.”

Holly eventually went to A&E, which passed her on to their mental health teams who provided help. She confided in a lecturer who, with her permission, made other staff aware.

“At that point my eating disorder was very serious. It was life-threatening. They were quite strong about the fact that I need to have an authorised break,” she said.

“So when I came back the following September to restart my course again, they were very supportive.

“I got a mentor, who’d support me once a week for about two hours. Just talking about how I was feeling and also if I was struggling with any university work to make sure I kept up with that while recovering.”

She will graduate this summer from the University of Derby, which is acting as a research partner to help develop the charter. It has implemented mandatory tailored classes on mental health wellbeing and trained its staff to spot signs of those in mental health crisis.

Mr Gyimah confirmed the government is also looking at how universities and NHS services can work more smoothly together to help students.

A Universities UK report earlier this year found some students risked “slipping through the gaps” due to a lack of co-ordination between the NHS and universities.

Student Minds CEO Rosie Tressler said: “Together we will transform the futures of the 2.3 million students that are in higher education, whilst equipping the doctors, teachers and business leaders of the future to continue the positive change in wider society.”

If you are worried or need any advice on any of the topics discussed in this article, go to BBC Action Line.

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BBC News – Health