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University of York invests up to £500,000 in mental health support services

Photo credit: The Yorker
Photo credit: The Yorker
Photo credit: The Yorker

Following a review of its services, the University of York will be investing up to half a million pounds in its provision of mental health support.

The Vice-Chancellor, Koen Lamberts, stated in a press release:

“Promoting positive mental health is an important responsibility for universities, but also society as a whole. As the number of students considering higher education grows, we must work hard to encourage openness between staff and students to talk about these issues in a supportive environment.

Working together with our partners in the NHS, we aim to strengthen our mental health support and raise awareness amongst our staff and students on how to identify signs of ill health and what resources are available to help”.

Mental health support provision has been a hot topic at the University of York over the last academic year. In an email to all students at the university, the Vice-Chancellor stated that approximately half of all on-campus emergency calls for an ambulance were in response to cases of self-harm or attempted suicide, a rate that has drastically increased in only a few years.

This comes at a time where the demand for student mental health support is ever rising. An article for The Guardian today states that demand for support has risen by approximately 50% in the last five years. Last year, the university secured £1,000,000 of funding for mental health services from a government scheme.

Students face a number of pressures that can contribute to severe stress, distress and, in some cases, breakdowns and suicidal thoughts. Many students fear that their tuition fee debts will never be repaid in their lifetimes. With tuition fees potentially rising and a government plan to prosecute students who fail to repay their loans, these worries are unlikely to go away.

Moreover, students who do experience mental health issues during their time at university often do not receive adequate support from their institutions. In a recent nation-wide survey, entitled “Grand Challenges in Student Mental Health,” conducted by Student Minds UK, it was discovered that 80% of those with a mental health problem were too afraid of being judged by their peers and lecturers to disclose their difficulties, whilst a shocking 93% of university staff and students agreed with the statement that, “The process of referring students to specialist services is too slow and difficult.” The full results of this survey can be found at www.studentminds.org.uk/grand-challenges.

Speaking at the National Union of Students’ conference this year, then-Community and Wellbeing Officer Scott Dawson proposed a motion to respond to the mental health crisis facing students.

In a Facebook post, Dom Smithies, the current Community and Wellbeing Officer of the student union, welcomed the new development. He said:

“This is a much needed win for students and a shoutout has to be done for all who were part of the task force – Ben Leatham and Scott Dawson especially! We at YUSU will be continuing to work on improving mental health support; holding the University to account to keep working on actions, working with local taskforce groups to lobby the NHS to provide mental health facilities, holding the NUS to account on the motion that Scott got passed at conference on mental health and improving our own Advice and Support Centre at YUSU… An increase in funding isn’t the ultimate solution that will solve the mental health crisis, but this is a huge step in the right direction!”

Responding to The Yorker‘s further inquiries, Dom Smithies added:

“This news is hugely positive and we are glad to see the University listening to students at the University of York, engaging with the report that was produced by the Student Mental Ill-Health Task Group and establishing mental health as a priority… Students that need support will hopefully feel the benefits immediately. We will be continuing to work with the University to deliver on the actions that were recommended in the Task Group report and ensure this issue remains at the top of its agenda.”

Additional reporting by Eleanor Higginson.