Mental Health Reform Needed, Say Students

3 March 2016, 07:50

Students have identified mental health support as one of the areas in most need of reform.

NUS Scotland, the national union of college and university students' associations, said politicians should commit to looking at what improvements could be made.

Among the areas it wants parties and candidates in May's Holyrood election to address is including specific reference to support for students and young people in the Scottish Government's new mental health strategy.

When student representatives were asked to vote on their top three priorities for NUS Scotland's Shaping Scotland's Future campaign, improved support for students with mental ill health was chosen alongside a right to bursary support for further education students, and year-round support through improved grants and summer funding.

The call comes ahead of Student Mental Health Day on Thursday.

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland President, said students identifying mental health as a top priority underlined the need for change on a national scale.

"The fact that students identified mental health support as one of the areas in most need of reform highlights the need for immediate cross-party action,'' she added.

"Students are often living away from home for the first time, facing worries about accommodation, finance, or academic pressures. These factors can all have a huge impact on a student's mental wellbeing, and ultimately on their studies. Without adequate signposting and support, some students are left unaware of how to access services, or aren't disclosing their illness because of the perceived stigma that surrounds mental ill health.

"By making this one of our top campaign priorities, students have made a clear statement that it's time for change.

"In the run up to May's elections, we're calling on politicians to commit to reforming the mental health support offered to students. The refresh of Scotland's mental health strategy provides a huge opportunity for progress to be made, and we want to see a recognition of the unique barriers and issues that students and young people face included in the strategy.

She added: "For those already accessing support, we need to ensure better coordination between universities, colleges, and the NHS, to ensure no student falls between the cracks when transitioning between health boards or levels of study.''

Jamie Hepburn, minister for mental health, said: "It is vital that our NHS is properly equipped to give those who are suffering from a mental health condition access to support and treatment as quickly as possible.

"This Government has been investing substantially in mental health services for a number of years but we know that demand is increasing and so more needs to be done to ensure people can get timely access to the most appropriate support they require - both in and out-of-hours.

"Around 90% of mental health problems are treated in primary care settings and in February, the Health Secretary announced that £3.5 million will be invested in local initiatives to improve support. This funding provides local health boards, working with their partners, with a real opportunity to think differently about how local services are organised and to develop new models of care.''

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume said: "Starting university or college can be a very stressful time, with lots to take in, particularly if students have moved away from home. And the pressure that builds as they go through their studies, working towards exams, can have a negative impact on students' mental health, especially if they have other worries to consider.

"Even if they don't experience mental health issues while studying, it should be clear to every student what kind of support is available and how they can access it. But at the moment the availability of mental health services across Scotland is fragmented at best.

"Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see a much-needed boost to mental health services, with more resources on the ground so anyone suffering poor mental health can access the best treatment as quickly and easily as possible.''