NEWS
16/09/2018 00:01 BST

Government Tells Universities: You Must Prioritise Student Mental Health

'There is no negotiation on this.'

David Goddard via Getty Images
The University of Bristol where 11 students have taken their own lives since 2016

Universities across Britain are being urged to “prioritise” student mental health with leaders told “there is no negotiation on this”.  

Minister of State for Universities, Sam Gyimah, gave the directive to Vice Chancellors ahead of 400,000 new students being welcomed at institutions across the country, with many Freshers’ weeks beginning on Monday. 

“Collectively, we must prioritise the wellbeing and mental health of our students – there is no negotiation on this. To make this happen, leadership from the top is essential,” he wrote in a letter. 

Gyimah went on to highlight that this year had seen record rates of 18-year-olds applying for university, along with record numbers of international students and told leaders to help “protect this hugely positive experience for all those starting their new, exciting chapter”.

PRAKASH SINGH via Getty Images
Sam Gyimah, pictured above meeting with Indian students go got scholarships in the UK, has written to university Vice Chancellors

Last month HuffPost UK highlighted concerns around the suicides of 11 students at Bristol University, and told how one student, Natasha Abrahart, had no contact with the university’s welfare team despite attempting suicide; her parents have since asked the coroner to investigate her death.

It was also revealed that Liverpool University ignored student Ceara Thacker’s pleas for help before her death in May. 

While the government’s new plans aren’t going live until the 2019/2020 academic year, Gyimah urged universities to act now and for leaders to personally engage in the consultation process to ensure “high standards” are set. 

“I want universities to use the build-up to the Charter launch to review what mental health practice is in place and improve areas that are inadequate,” he wrote. “I would ask that you lead by example and demonstrate your strong personal leadership in this area for the sake of today’s and tomorrow’s students.”

Gyimah went on to highlight proactive steps already in place and resources available to universities. 

Last week UK Research and Innovation launched eight new mental health networks, “which will bring together researchers to better understand the causes of mental health challenges, develop new treatments and tackle social isolation”. New transitions guidance - for students starting out at university - and suicide prevention and response guidance was also published on September 5.

Gyimah said while there is no “detracting from the academic success and value of the higher education sector”, advancing a student’s education is not “the only commitment you must make to them”. 

Useful websites and helplines:

Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 UK and Ireland (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@getconnected.org.uk

HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Monday-Friday 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41.

Maytree is a sanctuary for the suicidal in north London in a non-medical setting. For help or to enquire about a stay, call 020 7263 7070.