Scots students face mental health crisis


Student exam

Exam stress and debt coupled to lack of support is creating increased stress and depression

University students face a mental health crisis due to exam pressures and spiraling debts.

Student body NUS Scotland issued the stark warning as new figures reveal that students seeking counselling has nearly doubled in the past five years.

There were 8,180 requests for counselling support in 2016/17, up from 4,541 in 2012/13/

Although greater awareness of mental health support partly accounts for the rise in those seeking help, NUS Scotland says student mental health is worsening because of exam stress, part-time working and debt.

There are now 55 part time counsellors in Scotland’s universities compared to 21 in 2012.

The body is calling for increased resources from the Scottish Government to tackle the problem.

Liam McCabe, president of NUS Scotland, said: “Across Scotland, universities are seeing demand rocket, while resources are increasingly stretched.

“While everyone can experience mental ill-health, student life comes with huge pressures – from balancing study with part-time work to finding a new home or a job come graduation time.

“While it’s vital to tackle the causes of these pressures it’s also crucial that counselling services are in place to help those students whose mental health is affected.”

Andrew Reeves, chair of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, called for better support for students in universities.

“It is deeply concerning if universities are considering downgrading or reducing counselling services within their institutions, particularly surrounding complex mental health needs amongst students,” he said.

David Lott, deputy director of Universities Scotland, said the welfare of students was a top priority.

“We want to help our students with their problems as early as possible and students in need should speak to staff,” he said.

“We are aware that the demand for mental health services is rising at our institutions and that, more broadly, there are challenges faced by these type of services.

“We also know that poor mental health does not discriminate when it comes to age, status or background.”

Link to TFN article here 

Student mental health ‘failing a generation’

British universities say they risk “failing a generation” unless students get better mental health care.http://

A Universities UK report found some students risked “slipping through the gaps” due to a lack of co-ordination between the NHS and universities.

The most up-to-date statistics show 146 students killed themselves in 2016. At Bristol, three students have died suddenly in the past month alone.

An NHS official said local services should collaborate with universities.

Henry Curtis-Williams, a photography student, took his own life in 2016, aged 21.

“He had lost weight, he had dark shadows under his eyes, he was clearly in crisis,” said his mother Pippa Travis-Williams.

“He changed from being that super-confident person to [becoming] just a shell of a person.”

The number of deaths in 2016 was higher than the 134 students who killed themselves in 2015 – which in turn was the highest total since 2006.

Universities UK said that over the past five years, 94% of universities had seen a “sharp increase” in the number of people trying to access support services.

Some institutions noticed a three-fold increase.

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The report said data on students was rarely shared fully between universities and local health services, which could lead to students accessing “treatment and support with incomplete information, or not accessing it at all”.

The report added students leaving their family homes to attend university often enrolled with a new GP.

They would then return home during holidays, meaning they were without their bespoke GP care for several weeks or months.

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What is Universities UK suggesting?

  • Universities and local NHS services should communicate more about students who may need mental health services
  • Local services and universities should assess the need for mental health services for students in specific towns and cities
  • Institutions should promote positive mental health, make reasonable adjustments for students with pre-existing conditions, and reduce the stigma of mental health
  • Create “student mental health teams” with NHS providers to improve referrals to specialist services
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Universities UK’s head of mental health, Professor Steve West, said the system had to be “radically changed”.

“If we ignore it we will have failed a generation,” he added.

“We will be setting ourselves up for huge costs and burdens on the NHS, but more than that we will be destroying lives.”

Chief executive of Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust Paul Jenkins said: “We need to improve the links between local NHS services and the support that universities provide.

“It is essential that these young people are provided with the right support at each step of the pathway.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) said that mental health services in higher education were “strained” and “at times non-existent”.

It welcomed the report, adding: “A joined-up and coherent approach between the NHS and universities is exactly what students need.”

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‘Young adults struggle with transition to adult services’

By Hugh Pym, health editor

Some of the issues highlighted at universities are linked to the state of child and adolescent mental health services.

Young people who may have struggled to get treatment from these NHS services may find that problems resurface when they get to university.

Alternatively, the transition to adult mental health provision at 18 will coincide with the start of student life away from home – and that can be disorientating.

Universities have been criticised for not investing enough in counselling services and not promoting more general well-being in student life.

But they argue that a wider strategy involving the government and the NHS as well as higher education is essential.



Link to BBC article here 

“Losing faith”: the mental health crisis facing young Scots

With problems of mental health increasingly prevalent, and feelings of hopelessness and anxiety on the rise, what can be done to help Scotland’s young people?

OVER 40 per cent of Scotland’s young people said they have experienced a problem with their mental health in a new UK wide survey. 

Meanwhile, 51 per cent say they commonly feel anxious, 53 per cent speak of semi-constant stress, and one in five describe themselves as regularly feeling hopeless.

These findings were revealed in the latest figures released by the Prince’s Trust Macquarie Youth Index, based on a survey of 2,194 people aged 16 to 25 from across the UK. The Index assesses numerous factors which inform young people’s wellbeing, from physical health to family environment to working conditions.

Now in its 10th year, the most recent findings from the index also suggest that the emotional health of Scotland’s young people has declined measurably year on year.

“This is a generation rapidly losing faith in their ability to achieve their goals in life, who are increasingly wary of and disillusioned with the jobs market.” Senior head of partnerships at Prince’s Trust Scotland Finlay Laverty

This data echoes the conclusions of a poll conducted among Scottish young people in January by YouGov on behalf of the Mental Health Foundation, which found that over half of Scots aged 18 to 24 have experienced poor mental health as a result of loneliness and social isolation.

Responding to the new Macquarie Youth Index, Finlay Laverty, senior head of partnerships at Prince’s Trust Scotland, argued that the high numbers of young Scots facing problems with their mental and emotional health was tied to the unforgiving circumstances they face, saying: “It should ring alarm bells for us all that young people in Scotland are feeling more despondent about their emotional health.

“This is a generation rapidly losing faith in their ability to achieve their goals in life, who are increasingly wary of and disillusioned with the jobs market. Scotland is at real risk of leaving a wealth of untapped potential to go to waste.”

Commenting further, Laverty went on to demand action from multiple sectors of Scottish society, in light of the problem’s national implications: “One of the most important things we can do to change this picture is show young people that it’s worth having high aspirations, that opportunities to earn a decent living and progress in a career are out there, and that they’ll be supported along the way to live, learn and earn.

“For this to happen, it is vital that government, charities, and employers across Scotland invest more in developing young people’s skills and in providing opportunities for them to progress in fulfilling sustainable careers.

“Unless we act now we will face an imminent mental health storm.” Mental Health Foundation director Isabella Goldie

“Commitments to initiatives that promote positive mental well-being should underpin this to help create a culture of openness, where young feel supported and listened to.”

While Laverty points to the need for opportunities and provisions of mental health care, the rising prominence of young people’s mental and emotional wellbeing on the Scottish political agenda has seen numerous factors highlighted recently.

Following the January YouGov poll, Mental Health Foundation director Isabella Goldie observed that “loneliness among younger people is hugely underreported, but our research is clear that social isolation affects the mental health of young people more than any other age group.

“Our children are finding life harder to navigate than previous generations, and worryingly, they are living with high levels of distress. This is something we can no longer choose to ignore.

Goldie went on to warn that without action, Scotland faced a crisis in the mental health of its youth: “Too many of our young people are not thriving and unless we act now we will face an imminent mental health storm.”

The Mental Health Foundation’s research identified the prevalence of social media as a factor in the social isolation of young people, a phenomenon recognised by Cinzia DuBois, an Edinburgh-based writer and digital media specialist who has spoken extensively about her own experiences with mental health.

“Perfectionism is killing the millennial generation, and every generation which follows.” Writer and digital media specialist Cinzia DuBois

Speaking to CommonSpace, DuBois said: “As a millennial, I lived over shift, but I remember self-harming by the age of seven. By the age of seven I was convinced that I wouldn’t amount to anything, the institutions that I was part of had already convinced me life and success was an ‘all or nothing’ game. Perfectionism is killing the millennial generation, and every generation which follows.

“Originally it was just the academic institutions which graded and compartmentalised students’ self-worth; but now the young generation have more opportunities to micro-analyse their value. It’s a well-known fact that social media platforms have been designed to be addictive. Technology has hijacked people’s minds; rather than sitting in a casino pulling on the handle of a slot machine, young people are posting from their phones.”

Earlier this year, the Mental Health Foundation noted the importance Scottish Government pledges on creating a strategy addressing social isolation, as well as establishing a Youth Commission on mental health. However, Goldie also called for increased investment in schools based counselling, and affirmed the necessity of adequate mental health training for teachers.

The Scottish Government has been at pains to emphasise its commitment to addressing concerns surrounding young Scots’ mental health. Responding to the latest Prince’s Trust figures, Minister for Mental Health Maureen Watt told CommonSpace: “Providing a positive future for our young people is our top priority and this report shows that we must continue to do all we can to promote and improve wellbeing and to help children and young people thrive.

“Mental health needs to be something that everybody talks about, and reducing stigma and promoting discussion and early action are vital to ensuring that Scotland is the best place to grow up.” Minister for Mental Health Maureen Watt

“Mental health needs to be something that everybody talks about, and reducing stigma and promoting discussion and early action are vital to ensuring that Scotland is the best place to grow up – especially in 2018, the Year of Young People.”

Watt pointed to the Scottish Government’s ongoing efforts in the area, saying: “Our 10-year Mental Health Strategy, backed by investment of £150 million over the next five years, sets out clearly how we can improve early intervention, and ensure better access to services. That includes specific actions to support young people.”

In addition to their Mental Health Strategy, the Scottish Government in March of this year announced the formation of a new youth commission on mental health services, formed from between 15 and 20 people aged 14 to 22, recruited from a variety of backgrounds. With funding of £95,000, the commission will report back to ministers over the course of its 15-month tenure with recommendations for improving provisions for young Scots’ mental health.

READ MORE: SNP youth wing urges party to do more for student mental health

However, criticisms of existing provisions in Scotland are long-standing and widespread.

In January, the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), following the publication of their study ‘Going to Be… Well-Trained’, called on the Scottish Government to mark the Year of Young People by creating a programme to train all Scottish school staff in mental health after their survey revealed that more than two-thirds of teachers in Scotland do not feel they have received enough mental health training to properly carry out their role.

The survey also found one a third of school staff believed their school had an effective means of responding to mental health problems among pupils.

The importance of mental health provision within Scottish education was further underlined by SAMH, who have reported that half of all mental health problems in adulthood start by the mid-teens, while three-quarters have manifested by the time those suffering from them reach their mid-twenties.

Concerns within the education sector extend to colleges and universities, where the lack of adequate or available counselling for students has become increasingly controversial.

“It’s hard to understate the role that on-campus mental health services play in supporting students with mental ill health to access, remain, and succeed in education.” NUS Scotland president Luke Humberstone

Responding to the Prince’s Trust figures, NUS Scotland president Luke Humberstone told CommonSpace: “NUS Scotland has long highlighted the growing levels of mental ill health in Scotland’s students, and these figures are further evidence of the need to invest in mental health support as a matter of priority.

“It’s hard to understate the role that on-campus mental health services play in supporting students with mental ill health to access, remain, and succeed in education, breaking down barriers to the fantastic opportunities that education creates.

“However, the provision of these vital services across the country is patchy at best – with some institutions having a range of services on offer, while others have no on-campus counsellors available to students.”

Nevertheless, despite what improvements and new initiatives may be made by the Scottish Government or by the charity sector, within educational institutions or NHS Scotland, some have echoed Finlay Laverty’s warnings that the seemingly unfulfillable demands placed upon young people, particularly when reliable, fulfilling employment is increasingly scarce, can be a major factor in the nation’s worsening crisis of mental health.

READ MORE: Scottish pupils have been “failed” by lack of mental health training for teachers, charity says

In their 2017 report ‘Flexibility for Who? Millennials and mental health in the modern labour market’, the progressive think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research revealed that their analysis showed younger workers in part-time and temporary work are more likely to experience poorer mental health, with zero-hours contracts, low pay and job insecurity all listed as contributing factors to mental health problems.

The IPPR warns that, unless action is taken by government and employers, “younger workers face a future employment landscape that could damage their health and wellbeing”.

While Scotland, as of 2016, has the lowest rate of zero hours contracts in the UK, their presence remains a major aspect of the employment landscape, and millennial precarity is almost omnipresent through the developed world. Without significant upheaval or drastic reform, the economic factors driving the mental health issues of Scotland’s youth will not end soon.

Whether action on other levels of society will be enough to combat the unfolding crisis remains to be seen.



Link to Common Space article here 

Mental Health Could Be Social Media Companies’ Deepwater Horizon

If social media companies want to continue to be a force for good, then they must share the responsibility of dealing with the bad.

The 21st Century wouldn’t be the same without social media – it’s connected billions of people around the world, helped topple corrupt governments and has created a global multibillion-dollar industry.

 But this great leap forward in connecting people is beginning to have worrying impacts on mental health for some, especially among young people.

Mental health has long been an issue close to my heart, and, in my new role as Universities Minister, it is an area I want to continue to focus on.

 A growing body of research has linked use of social media to a range of mental health problems, from depression and anxiety to eating disorders and sleep problems. As the generation that use social media the most, it is those aged 16-24 that are being the hardest hit. A report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) suggested that social media can be more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes.

This is also an issue that the National Union of Students (NUS) has been campaigning on, hoping to raise awareness of mental health issues on campus for a growing number of students and the impact of social media.

I’ve heard as much first-hand while I’ve been touring universities, schools and youth groups, and it was through these conversations that the role social media can play in mental health issues was really hammered home.

One student I spoke to said the need to stay connected 24/7 through fear of missing out (“FOMO” I was reliably informed) was “almost overwhelming”, while another explained their growing craving for ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ of their posts and the feeling of rejection when they received none. Another described not being able to escape bullies, even when they were at home in their bedroom.

I know that a system designed to bring us all together is actually leaving many young people feeling isolated, alone and alienated. As social media become increasingly universal, this presents a big challenge for society: one we should all take seriously.

There have been calls for more government regulation in this area. And we have responded. We’ve unveiled an Internet Safety Strategy that seeks to create a code of practice for social media companies that aim to deal with cyber bullying and remove hateful and inappropriate content. It also highlights the importance of education as a way to help inform parents and their children about online safety and how this advice can be better integrated into social media sites themselves.

An issue we face, though, is that social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are supranational entities. Laws in one country won’t apply in another, so the emphasis and desire to make social media safer must come from within. I believe that big social media businesses have a moral and ethical obligation to do so.

Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram must accept that they are not just platforms that people use, but publishers and content-creators, and they should not shirk their responsibility

In his New Year’s message, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, accepted that his site needed to do more to remove harmful or inappropriate content, deal with cyber bullying and the impact using the site has on mental health.

This admission is a good first step, but we need a new approach that all social media sites will adopt – we need something that will go viral, so to speak.

I consider one way forward could be to make dealing with the mental health impact of their service part of social media companies’ license to operate.

I’m not talking here about licensing in a legal sense, but about the permission we as consumers, citizens and society give to a company to continue to go about its business, to sell goods and provide services in a particular way. Like Wi-Fi on the go, you notice it most when it’s gone.

Take, for example, the oil sector, and the huge impact of Deepwater Horizon. This tragedy killed 11, and the resultant oil-slicks fouled the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico. It badly damaged BP’s reputation and ability to operate as it had before in the US.  We, rightly, expect more from business, with the demands on them to operate responsibly – wherever they are – increasingly daily.

These expectations apply as much to our newest global companies as to those in our oldest industries. Social media firms have transformed how we interact with one another; they spend serious money on understanding their users, on analysing data and on R&D. But they seem reluctant to take decisive action to limit the insecurity, anxiety and depression their services can foster among some users.

Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram must accept that they are not just platforms that people use, but publishers and content-creators, and they should not shirk their responsibility – clearing up this mental health fallout should be part of their license to operate, their covenant with their customers.

Social media offers huge benefits: it has democratised and accelerated the sharing of information, connected billions of people, and created tens of thousands of jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago.

But if social media companies want to continue to be a force for good, then they must share the responsibility of dealing with the bad. Consider this a friend request from a clearly willing Government with our shared interest being the mental well-being of young people across the UK and the wider world.

I do hope they accept and we can get down to work.

Sam Gyimah is the universities, science and innovation minister and Conservative MP for East Surrey



Link to Huffington Post article here