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Universities’ Minister: Student Mental Health must be the top priority

Universities’ Minister: Student Mental Health must be the top priority

It has been revealed today that the government have issued an ultimatum to university vice-chancellors, urging them to improve their student mental health services, expressing their frustration at universities for stating that studies always take priority.

1 in 4 students seek counselling at universities, whilst many more are suffering with mental health issues without speaking out.

Universities’ Minister, Sam Gyimah has called for student mental health to be prioritised, urging chancellors to take a ‘personal lead’ on the issue; ‘There are some vice-chancellors who think that university is about training the mind and all of these things are extra that they don’t have to deal with. They can’t do that, they’ve got to get behind this programme. It can’t be something that belongs to the wellbeing department of the university. This requires sustained and serious leadership from the top.’

Plans are being put in place to offer students the option of an alert button, which when pressed, with their permission, will alert their families and the university to their mental health struggles and the potential danger that they are in.

This idea comes in the wake of numerous suicides at Bristol University, where it was revealed that parent’s of deceased children were usually ‘kept in the dark’ and were unaware of what their child was going through.

The scheme will hopefully be initiated in Fresher’s Week, with students being asked to nominate one loved one to be there on standby.

Parents of children who took their own lives are also calling for a more direct dialogue between universities and parents, urging universities to not be afraid, or think it unprofessional to directly contact parents if concerned about a student’s well being.

James Murray, father of Ben, who took his life during his first year at Bristol University, has welcomed the proposal from Sam Gyimah for alert buttons, calling the whole concept a ‘turning point’ in student mental health and well-being.

As part of his overall plans for university mental health services, Gyimah has also revealed plans for student mental health charter which would essentially set a new criteria for all universities in the UK to follow.

Gyimah stresses that it is vital for all universities to show that they have a good understanding of what is required for student mental health support.

Gyiah stresses that universities should play an incredibly important role in student’s lives; ‘‘Universities should see themselves as ‘in loco parentis’ – not infantilising students, but making sure support is available where required. ‘

The Universities Minister stresses that university is simply not just about the training of the mind, but for the caring and nurturing of it in terms of mental stress, instability, depression and suicidal thoughts.

If you or anyone you know is struggling, head over to Mind Charity to find out more.

Elizabeth Whittingham Elizabeth is a history graduate currently working in content and communications.