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Universities told to prioritise mental health of students

Monday 17th September 2018
Universities need to increase their focus on mental wellbeing among students, the universities minister has said.
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Universities have been reminded of their responsibilities towards the student population as a new academic year begins.

In a letter sent to every university's vice-chancellor, the universities minister Sam Gyimah emphasised the importance of addressing mental health issues, amid growing concerns about the number of suicides among students. 

The letter stated: "With the new academic year upon us, I'm sure you would agree that good mental health and wellbeing underpins successful participation and attainment.

"Collectively, we must prioritise the wellbeing and mental health of our students - there is no negotiation on this. To make this happen, leadership from the top is essential."

The issue of mental health at higher education institutions has gained greater prominence following incidents such as the deaths of ten University of Bristol students and two more from the neighboring University of Western England. Several of these have been confirmed as suicides. 

It was in Bristol that the government announced the University Mental Health Charter in June. It will take effect from the start of the 2019-20 academic year, but Mr Gyimah has been keen to stress that a greater focus on the issue must start sooner. 

The Bristol incidents accounted for just a few of the many cases of suicides in recent years at UK universities. According to the Office for National Statistics, 95 students took their own lives in the 12 months to July 2017 in England and Wales.

Universities taking innovative approaches towards the situation include Derby. It offers a course in mental wellbeing that students can take to help them deal with the stresses and emotional challenges of university life.

In June, University of Derby vice-chancellor Kathryn Mitchell told the BBC their approach is to "understand" that many students face "significantly higher levels of stress in undertaking their degrees" than others. The aim, she added, is to ensure that everyone can get the "best outcome for their degree". 

Written by Angela Newbury

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