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University students need more mental health support, warns expert

There are calls that more must be done to protect the mental health of students at university  (PA Archive)
There are calls that more must be done to protect the mental health of students at university (PA Archive)

Universities risk being left to “pick up the pieces” for students with mental health problems who did not get the help they needed at school, an education safeguarding expert has warned

Mark Balaam, who founded a safeguarding app used by students to boost well-being, spoke out to mark University Mental Health Day on Thursday.

He said more must be done to protect the mental health of students at university who as schoolchildren suffered from disruption to their schooling, isolation from peers and uncertainty about their educational progress during the pandemic.

He said: “With the pandemic ‘officially’ ending almost a year ago, and rules and restrictions relaxing much more prior to that, the issues affecting mental health show no signs of abating in the young.”

He added: “With mental health services failing in schools then, the impact is going to be felt in universities. This is traditionally when young people discover their first steps of independence, living away from home and taking on a host of domestic chores. This can be a significant culture shock, and if they’re already mentally unprepared, then universities will be the ones to pick up the pieces when mental health challenges arise.”

University Mental Health Day is an annual event designed to spark conversation about mental health and to make the issue a priority for universities.

According to an NHS report on the mental health of children and young people published last year, more than 23 per cent of 17-to-19 year olds had a probable mental disorder.

NHS England rolled out 398 Mental Health Support Teams within schools and colleges to provide early support to young people with mild to moderate mental health issues – covering 35 per cent of pupils in further education.

NHS Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch said the NHS was providing support for more children and young people than ever before.

Mr Balaam founded the imabi Inspire app, which is currently used by 20,000 students to report problems and get mental health information.

He said social media, Covid and heightened awareness of mental well-being could all have increased the reporting of mental health problems.

He said: “The distorted view of reality portrayed by social media is pernicious, and a growing problem that increases anxiety. But also, the seeming state of the wider world can fuel the fires of anxiety. A more interconnected world means problems that previously would have seemed far away and remote – from geopolitics to climate change – are now an overbearing source of stress and anxiety.”

He added: “The issue of mental health in the young is a complex one. But educators need to allocate resources to combat it. Whatever the causes of anxiety, we need to offer the support to overcome it. From better access to trusted guidance and advice, to the opportunity to speak up and share their concerns, there are resources out there. We just need to work together to improve awareness of them.”

If you are struggling with mental health, you can speak to a trained advisor from Mind mental health charity on 0300 123 3393 or email info@mind.org.uk