A survey by the Association of Colleges (AoC) found that 85% of institutions had seen an increase in the number of students with disclosed mental health issues in the last three years - but claim local mental health services are a “post code lottery”.
Ian Ashman, AoC president, said: “Accident and emergency units are overloaded and overcrowded and it is not right that colleges are forced to refer so many students to these services, which are often not the most appropriate place for them.
“Colleges don’t want to add to the current problems A&E 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.”
Of the 72 English colleges asked, 74% said they had sent students to A&E over mental health issues in the 2015/16 academic year.
The association is calling on NHS trusts to use funding to develop closer relationships with colleges to help support “young people who are most at risk and prevent them suffering a crisis”.
The AoC’s research found that due to funding cuts, only 4 in 10 colleges are now able to afford a full-time counsellor or mental health worker on campus.
Ashman continued: “Colleges do excellent work in helping students to stay well and to support those with mental ill health.
“However, where they have good relationships with their local mental health services, they are able to do much more to address issues before they become serious.”
“Effective intervention by such partnerships can avoid students developing more serious problems or getting to the point of a mental health crisis,” he added.
A government spokesperson said young people’s mental health is a “priority”.
“We are putting a record £1.4 billion into transforming the support available,” they said.
“Clinical Commissioning Groups put in place local plans to set out how services can work together and we expect colleges to be engaged in drawing up these plans.
“People of all ages sometimes need to go to A&E for their mental health. This is why we are also investing £247 million in mental health services in hospital emergency departments to make sure that patients get the right care for them, at the right time and are referred for further support if needed.”
The AoC surveyed 105 colleges in England about student’s mental health. The research has been released during Children’s Mental Health Week.