Action, not more reports, needed to tackle student mental health | Ketters

John Williams and Chris Youle call for services to be restored to maintain wellbeing

The Universities UK report Minding Our Future highlights what those of us who work with students have known for many years (Call for urgent action to improve mental health services for students, 11 May). Mental health services are not integrated, and they do not always follow the person if he or she relocates, assuming that services are available for younger people and that they are able to access them. 

Governments of all political persuasion express their commitment to reform, and their deep regret and sorrow when life is lost, or serious harm occurs. Such expressions are of little if any comfort to those in need of support and services. Nor do they provide any strength to families and friends who lose loved ones. At what point did we decide that support for vulnerable young people was not a priority? When did we decide that the politics of austerity and outsourcing were more important than their lives and wellbeing?

Please, no more reports telling us what we already know. As the fifth strongest economy in the world, the provision of well-funded, integrated and personalised mental health support services for all generations is achievable. Until we commit to such a policy, we will continue to read tragic stories of suicide and self-harm.
Professor John Williams
Professor of law, Aberystwyth University

• Your report rightly draws attention to the enormous problem of providing appropriate support to students experiencing periods of mental distress. I ask myself: “What happened?” In 1999, when I worked in HE, the heads of university counselling services produced the report Degrees of Disturbance: the new agenda; the impact of increasing levels of psychological disturbance among students in higher education, which was taken very seriously by the Committee of Vice-chancellors and Principals (now Universities UK).

The report addressed the very same issues as Minding Our Future. Many institutions took this seriously. They introduced mental health awareness training for staff at all levels and recommended urgent expansion of counselling and support services. I was involved at the Open University in developing and delivering some of this training over the following few years. Last week’s report makes depressing reading. Things seemed to be improving at the beginning of the century. The deterioration in student support services must reflect the massive change in social priorities that has occurred, alongside huge financial austerity pressures on education, health and social services, under the Tory governments since 2010. There is an urgent need to halt the damage.
Chris Youle

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