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Address the specific needs of students in the commissioning of mental health services

This petition had 2,257 supporters

Today, 49% of young people (17 to 30) enter higher education. According to the National Union of Students, 20% of these individuals are experiencing a mental health problem. That’s a lot of students.

In 2011, The Royal College of Psychiatrists called for National Health Service providers to ‘recognise and respond to the particular mental health needs of the student population and the difficulties that many experience in gaining equal access to services’. This isn’t happening fast enough. Student Minds has been researching the experiences of students accessing mental health support in collaboration with students, professionals across the sector and members of the public.

What have we found?

In short, a postcode lottery for student support exists.

Whilst there are some great examples of best practice in a number of larger university cities, such as Nottingham and Leeds, in many parts of the country students are facing particular problems accessing support services. Of the professionals we surveyed, 92% felt that a student's treatment is negatively affected by moving between home and university and 96% felt that students do not get specialist care as quickly as they would like.  

As one mother told us: “My daughter is in her first semester of her first year at university…our experience is a disjointed, complicated, stressful and timely one, with my observation that I have provided the role of case worker to help join up the dots, communicate and facilitate her best use of the help that's out there. I can see how a sufferer can very easily slip through the net without this support and motivation. Any change to address this would be helpful.”

The inadequate care stems from a system which is not adapted to the transient nature of student life and does not cater to the specific needs of students.

Students need support between home and university to be joined up. Without careful planning, students who have only recently been discharged from a service move to university and do not have access to support for the crucial first months at university. Early and continuous support is the best way to ensure that a student’s condition does not deteriorate, which might otherwise require them to drop out of university.

There are a number of issues at play here which we are responding to, but a key problem is that NHS commissioners often aren't aware of how many students are in their area and where they are at different times of the year, so many do not take this into consideration when funding services.

We are calling on the Department of Health to support the development of best practice guidelines on this issue for all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the people that make decisions about commissioning services in local areas, so that across the UK all students have access to consistent care pathways catered to their needs. We have spoken to a number of CCGs that welcome further input in this area and are enthusiastic about improving student access to support, but central action from the Department of Health is necessary to help commissioners access the resources they need to make changes.

And we need to act now. Over the past few months Clinical Commissioning Groups have been developing their local strategies. Their five – year plans will be signed off from April 2014. We’re concerned that the particular needs of students haven’t been taken into account enough during this process. It’s great that a variety of information packs have been developed for CCGs, but the needs of students and the problems they have accessing care (especially due to transitions) have not been covered. Until the Department of Health recognises students as a special interest group in mental health support, and until CCGs are fully supported to tackle these issues in their localities, many students will continue to receive inadequate care.

We’re meeting with Norman Lamb, the Minister of State for Care and Support, on the 13th March to present our Report ‘University Challenge’ and this petition.

We need your help to put the pressure on and persuade the Department of Health that change needs to happen. Whether you’re a current or future student, a university or NHS professional, a parent concerned about your child or a member of the public who wants to help make a change, please join us by calling for this important issue to be addressed.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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