Make students' mental health a top priority, minister urges universities

New mental health charter aims to promote early intervention in higher education
student looks pensive

New mental health charter aims to promote early intervention in higher education

Picture: iStock

Universities should take the place of parents and ensure they offer good mental health support to students to prevent them feeling overwhelmed, a minister said.

Universities minister Sam Gyimah has called on higher education institutions to make student mental health be a top priority.

He is urging universities to sign a new mental health charter, which will include standards that universities must meet on areas such as early intervention, training and promoting 'healthy environments and behaviour'.

It is being drawn up by charities and higher education groups, and participating universities will receive recognition for meeting the criteria.

'Don't risk failing a generation'

Mr Gyimah said: 'I expect the leadership of all our universities to get behind this important agenda, otherwise risk failing an entire generation of students.

'Universities should see themselves as 'in loco parentis' – not infantilising students, but making sure support is available where required.

'It is not good enough to suggest that university is about the training of the mind and nothing else, as it is too easy for students to fall between the cracks and to feel overwhelmed and unknown in their new surroundings.'

At some universities, around one in four students are seeing, or waiting to see, counselling services, according to the Department for Education (DfE).

A Nursing Standard investigation last year revealed how one in three nursing students who seek help from university support services do so for anxiety, stress or depression.

A bereaved mother told Nursing Standard almost 100 nurses and nursing students had contacted her about their mental health struggles following the death by suicide of her daughter.

A complex issue that requires partnership working

The charter is part of a package of measures outlined by the minister that aim to improve young people's mental health. Others include looking at whether universities could introduce opt-in systems that would permit them to contact a named individual if a student was having mental health difficulties.

University of the West of England vice-chancellor Steve West, who chairs Universities UK's mental health in higher education advisory group, said many institutions were already using a UK framework on the issue. This framework is designed to encourage university leaders to make mental well-being a core consideration in all university activity.

He added: 'Universities cannot address these complex challenges alone. Partnership with students, staff, government, schools, colleges and employers, the NHS, local authorities and third sector organisations is vital if we are to help students and staff to thrive. We still have a long way to go.'


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