In recent years, the number of university students affected by mental health seems to be a figure that just keeps rising. A recent study by the World Health Organisation reported that 1 in 3 freshers experience symptoms of mental health disorders. Furthermore, a fifth of 16-24 year olds are thought to experience anxiety or depression. These statistics are disastrous but then, sadly, are hardly shocking. Most of us either experience the issue first-hand or have close friends that do. However, progress is being made.
The Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, announced a few weeks ago that Greater Manchester will undergo public service reforms including improved mental health support services to students across the borough. The changes that will impact the support available to students include the introduction of a ‘university-student GP passport’. The purpose being to ensure students can keep the same GP throughout the course of their studies.
Also, the Mayor stated that digital consultations are included in the plans to transform mental health provision for university students. Hopefully, implementing digital consultations will increase the network of help services that students in need can access.
In general, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) recognised that national mental health services for children and young people are seriously underfunded, with just 7% of the mental health budget being spent on this age group. The Mayor describes this as a “national scandal.” However, Manchester has already started doing what it can to change that. Last year, they announced a £135m budget for mental health services and 60% towards children, young people, and new mothers specifically. This is the largest investment in mental health services compared to anywhere else in the country. Furthermore, the latest budget saw the Chancellor grant an extra £2bn to mental health services across the UK.
Manchester has the highest population of students than any other city in the UK. These reforms could impact the well-being of hundreds of thousands of young people. One way in which Greater Manchester is equipped to make the aforementioned reforms is by health devolution, meaning decisions can be made to impact the ten local councils in terms of health and social care services. Only time will tell just how useful the changes will be, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the results will be positive enough to compel the rest of the country to follow GMCA’s lead in working towards a solution.
Arguably, one way these reforms will help the situation is by raising awareness of the extent of the issue. For the first time ever, the government will collate and publish data about waiting times for children and young people’s mental health services. Whilst the resulting data may show mental health services to be of sub-par standards, it will provide a pressure to improve the system. The excessive wait times are often the cause behind students to not get help before having to take action such as moving home, or dropping out.
Mental health support is also available directly from most universities. The University of Manchester is no exception; with one-to-one counselling, mental health and wellbeing workshops, and online self-help resources. Staff even have the opportunity to take courses to understand how best to support students and how to recognise when students might be in a mental health crisis. There are always people to talk to on the phone or on the internet, whether that is linked to the university (e.g. Nightline), or nationwide (e.g. Samaritans).