A leading university, which has been hit by 11 suspected suicides in two years, has said almost all new and returning students have signed up to a scheme to provide mental health alerts to parents.
Bristol University, home to 22,000 students, told HuffPost UK on Monday that 94% had opted in to a new initiative to allow staff to contact their guardians if they were experiencing mental health problems.
The opt-in scheme, among the first of its kind in the UK, is completed at the point of registration. It asks students to name a person who can be contacted should they experience difficulties during the academic year.
Campaigners and bereaved parents have argued that the system is one way vice-chancellors can immediately address growing concerns around student mental health.
The Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, has said the issue is a “non-negotiable” priority after research found a near five-fold increase in the number of students seeking mental health support since 2006-7.
HuffPost UK reported last week on the wildly differing approaches to data protection, which sees some universities only contact third parties in “life or death” emergencies.
Many universities analysed as part of the research cited data protection laws as a barrier to providing an “opt-in” system, with disclosure of information only approved in limited circumstances and only among parties deemed critical to a student’s health, such as the NHS.
Bristol has defended its pastoral care and mental health support amid growing scrutiny following a series of sudden deaths. In October 2017, the institution announced a £1 million pound investment in support and launched a policy overhaul.
University of Bristol Vice-Chancellor Professor Hugh Brady said the institution was “implementing a university-wide approach to wellbeing” in an effort to reach students more proactively.
He said: “Our students are adult learners with all the rights of privacy enjoyed by other adults.
“However, we believe that where a student is experiencing difficulties they can benefit hugely from the early involvement of a parent, former teacher, friend or guardian – involvement that vitally requires the student’s unequivocal consent.
“We are delighted that 94% of all our students, both those new to Bristol and those returning, have signed up to this new policy.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is part of HuffPost UK’s series investigating student mental health across the UK. If you would like to get in touch with our reporter, email George.Bowden@huffpost.com.