The number of students disclosing a mental health condition to their university has risen by nearly five times since 2006, according to a framework report published by Universities UK. The academic year 2015-16 saw a rise from 3000 in 2006 to over 15,000 of first-years disclosing the information.
Universities need to work harder to ‘coordinate care for students’, according to Professor Steve West, the Chair of the UK Mental Health in Higher Education Working Group, for the sake of the students, and the university as a whole.
The ‘#stepchange’ framework seeks to encourage leaders in higher education to raise the importance of mental health in their institutions. It comes at a time of growing publicity around mental health amongst students, with 6 students taking their own lives at Bristol university in the last academic year alone.
Citing that 1 in 4 people will face a mental health problem at some point in their lives, they raise the case for early intervention. 50% of adult conditions manifest themselves during teenage years, whilst over 75% manifest themselves by the age of 24, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Student suicide is seen as a key symptom of inadequate care by authorities, although identifying those at risk is often ‘challenging’, as only 28% of those who take their own lives reach out for help in the year before their death, with only 12% seeing university counselling services, suggesting that the vast majority of students at risk tend to go under the radar.
Four reasons are presented as to why mental health needs to be a ‘strategic priority’, including Risk, Reputation, Success and Policy, aiming to protect students at risk, abide by their duty of care, improve university experiences both pastorally and academically, and to reflect recent political moves around the topic.
Reputation is a key factor for universities, and negative media narratives ‘can be enormously damaging’. Earlier this year it was reported that certain institutions needed to ‘triple’ their mental health provision to cope with rising demand and battle inadequate accessibility, according to the Higher Education Policy Institute.
However, despite being expected to be welcomed by universities and students alike, it remains to be seen to what extent the new proposals are enacted, appearing to depend on the financial investment each institution is willing to make.