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Increased mental health spending is ineffective, report suggests

Students mental health issues remain a concern despite universities increasing spending on mental health services, according to an investigation by The Times.

£50 million is spent annually on mental health support in universities, but in light of the string of suspected suicides in Bristol University, it does not seem to be enough to combat the increase in the number of students with mental health problems, the investigation concludes.

Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show 95 university student suicides in the span of 12 months up to July 2017 in England and Wales.

An increase in demand for mental health support services in universities is evident, with 94% of universities reporting a sharp increase in the number of students seeking support services over the past five years, as presented by a 2017 IPPR report.

£50 million is spent annually on mental health support in universities

The Times investigation revealed similar conclusions. A freedom for information request sent to UK universities showed that the proportion of students seeking help has risen from one in 29 to one in 23. In some institutions, the number is as high as one in six.

Spending on mental health services has increased, however, with some universities doubling their budgets in this respect.

Former universities minister Sam Gyimah issued a statement at the time calling for vice-chancellors to focus on a prioritisation of mental health support for students, warning institutions of potentially “failing an entire generation of students” unless they commit to an overhaul.

The government has announced an ‘opt-in’ scheme to be rolled out from the 2019/2020 academic year, whereby students have the option to opt in to the system, nominating a family member or a friend to be informed in the event of a serious mental health issue.

King’s College London psychology professor Sir Simon Wessely argues that the solution to the mental health crisis might not be increases in spending, but rather to research which programmes are effective.

He told The Telegraph: “In three years’ time you will really wish that you had [done some research] because when you run out of money for all these schemes – which you will – how will you know which are the five among the 65 that you’ve tried?”

I did not feel comfortable enough opening up about my struggles and felt that they were handled unprofessionally

– Kuhashvini Rajasegar

Warwick student, and vice-president of Mind Aware Society, Kuhashvini Rajasegar commented for The Boar on Warwick’s own wellbeing services: “My personal experiences with the counselling team did not meet the standards I had. I did not feel comfortable enough opening up about my struggles and felt that they were handled unprofessionally.”

When asked about what improvements the university’s mental health support services can make, she suggested that services offered should be “better advertised around campus”.

She added that the University can encourage students to adopt healthier lifestyles, contributing to improvements in mental health, such as by “having healthier options in vending machines” and a greater provision of low-cost physical activities around campus.

The University told The Boar: “The University of Warwick is committed to working with students to improve provision and seek new ways to provide support – in response to student feedback, Wellbeing Support Services has moved to a new location in Senate House for greater accessibility and to raise awareness of the extensive range of services to support a student’s wellbeing; including 24/7 access to trained support staff for those living on campus.

“Wellbeing Support Services also provide services designed to meet the appropriate needs of students – including drop-in sessions, pre-arranged specialist support sessions, emergency appointments, email counselling and accessible self-help resources and materials available online and 24/7 at the Library.

The University of Warwick has recently committed over £500k extra to support Wellbeing Support Services

“All new students are provided with written details of the Wellbeing Support Services available to them before they arrive on campus, and those living on campus in student accommodation will meet with Residential Life Tutors who are trained to further inform and explain the services available.

“The University of Warwick has recently committed over £500k extra to support Wellbeing Support Services, including additional outreach workers alongside an enhanced range of services available to students and to support the work of Wellbeing Support Services.

“Further to Wellbeing Support Services, the University provides free fitness activities to Warwick students, including Rock up & Play sessions that cover a range of options; football, basketball, badminton, squash, trampoline, Ultimate Frisbee, swim clinics. The full range is available via: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/sport/active/rock-up-and-play.”

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