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Rising number of students experience mental health problems

Colleges in England report a rising number of students experiencing mental health issues. The finding has led to calls for more specialist support for young people in crisis.
Depressed student

Colleges in England report a rising number of students experiencing mental health issues. The finding has led to calls for more specialist support for young people in crisis

Three in four colleges have referred students with a mental health crisis to emergency departments (EDs) in the past year.

This was the finding of a survey of 105 colleges about one third of the total in England.

The majority of colleges surveyed (85%) also reported a rise in the number of students with mental health issues in the past three years.

Rise in presentations

Nurses working in EDs agreed that there had been a rise in the number of young people presenting with mental health problems.

The poll by the Association of Colleges (AoC) also found eight out of

Colleges in England report a rising number of students experiencing mental health issues. The finding has led to calls for more specialist support for young people in crisis

Depressed student
Picture: iStock

Three in four colleges have referred students with a mental health crisis to emergency departments (EDs) in the past year.

This was the finding of a survey of 105 colleges – about one third of the total in England.

The majority of colleges surveyed (85%) also reported a rise in the number of students with mental health issues in the past three years.

Rise in presentations

Nurses working in EDs agreed that there had been a rise in the number of young people presenting with mental health problems.

The poll by the Association of Colleges (AoC) also found eight out of ten colleges believe there is a significant number of students with undiagnosed mental health problems.

Four out of ten colleges now have a full-time counsellor or mental health worker on their campus.

The poll also highlights the number of colleges which have good relationships with their local child and adolescent mental health services.

But almost half (48%) said their relationship with clinical commissioning groups, which commission mental health services, was non-existent.

Lack of investment

AoC president Ian Ashman said: ‘Colleges don't want to add to the current problems [ED] services are experiencing, but they are sometimes left with no choice because there is a lack of investment in joined-up specialist support for young people and adults in the community.’

Commenting on the survey, Shelley Cummings, who is safeguarding lead for Royal Surrey County Hospital and Ashford and St Peter's NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘I have worked in ED for more than 15 years and we are definitely seeing an increase in the number of under-18s who are presenting with a variety of mental health problems. 

'Previously, we would have seen people from this age group who have attempted suicide, but we are now seeing people who are presenting with problems who may be worried about harming themselves or suffering from conditions such as anxiety.

'This is a good thing because people are seeking help earlier and recognising that they need support.’

Quick referral needed

Ms Cummings added that it was important to be able to quickly refer these young people to appropriate mental health support services – otherwise it risked worsening their condition, especially if they felt their problems were not being taken seriously.

The AoC added that mental health service funding should be used to help the NHS develop closer relationships with colleges.

A government spokesperson said £1.4 billion was being invested in services supporting young people’s mental health.

The AoC is made up of 308 further education, sixth form, tertiary and specialist colleges across the UK.


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