Campaigners are calling for more support for student mental health services

Campaigners have said there is still a long way to go to support young people and prevent suicide after the Government announced extra funding for student mental health services.

Student Minds mental health charity has received a three-year funding commitment of £262,500 annually from the Office for Students and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, to expand the provision of Student Space.

The platform offers students one-to-one mental health support as well as services via the web, phone and text message.

The funding comes after the Government allocated £3m to help the NHS work more closely with universities when providing students with mental health support.

However, campaigners have said there is a long way to go when it comes to providing students with the best possible mental health services.

Mental health campaigner Ben West told Sky News: “So many students I speak to don’t know what’s available, and even if they do know what’s available, they’re presented so mysteriously that there’s so much anxiety about going.

“It’s such a barrier to receiving that help.”

He added that there are also large discrepancies between the universities.

Mr West said: “It varies hugely from university to university.

“Some universities I’ve seen and heard about are great, they’re very proactive in terms of the support they offer, and some universities are incredibly unproductive.

“We need so much more regulation and guidance from the government.”

In 2018, Natasha Abrahart took her own life while in her second year at the University of Bristol.

Struggling with social anxiety, her well-being deteriorated as she faced increasing pressure around oral university assessments.

Her department was made aware of her situation.

Robert Abrahart, her father, told Sky News how Natasha’s flatmate had written to staff saying the student had had suicidal thoughts “and to some extent attempted”.

He said: “At that point you would think people would pick it up and do something.

— Actually, yes, they helped her get to the GP service, but did nothing else in the ward.

Her mother Margaret Abrahart added: “I think they were quite afraid to speak to her in case it was upsetting.

“But at the same time, they seem OK with putting her in a situation that would be very upsetting.”

Her parents later learned of several attempts their daughter had made to get help.

Abrahart said, “There are records of her searching the internet for ways to solve her own problems.”

Her mother added: “It’s very tragic to see the attempts she made to solve her own problems.

“It was just one of those problems that was just too difficult and she needed help”.

Ultimately, a landmark court decision found that the university’s failures contributed to Natasja’s death.

At the time, the University of Bristol said staff were working hard and diligently to support her and are committed to providing the best possible support to students.

The university is considering whether to appeal the court’s decision.

The case sparked conversations around student mental health, and her parents continue to campaign so other students don’t experience the distress Natasha did.

There are also concerns about the mental health training given to student-oriented staff.

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Sky News obtained data from 109 universities through freedom of information requests.

It showed that 98% offer student-oriented training in mental health.

However, it is not compulsory in 67 out of 107 institutions – that is 63%.

And while 37%, 40 out of 107, have some form of mandate – in most cases this does not cover all employees.

Clinical psychologist Peter Kinderman told Sky News that understanding of mental health needs to be widespread.

He said: “It should be part of the duty of care that all university staff – and that includes cleaning staff as well as lecturers – should have towards their students.

“It should be inherent in what universities do.

“If universities are shirking their responsibility to understand and then support students’ mental health, then I think they are wrong.”

Education Minister Andrea Jenkyns said: “Since its launch in 2020, Student Space has played a crucial role in supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing during some incredibly challenging times.

“As we move on from the pandemic, we must not lose sight of the importance of students’ mental health, which is why I am delighted that the Office for Students will continue to fund Student Space. This is part of £15 million worth of funding which we have asked the OfS to allocate to student mental health in 2022/2023, to increase student access to mental health services and to support partnerships between universities and NHS services.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the United States, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK

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