Uni welcomes calls for ‘urgent action’ on mental health services

Oxford has welcomed a Universities UK (UUK) report calling for “urgent action” to improve the coordination of universities and the NHS in regards to mental health services.

According to the report, between 2016 and 2018 the number of under-graduates disclosing a mental health condition across the country rose from 39,275 to 49,265, while the rise was from 5,625 to 8,040 among graduate students. Many students felt “failed” by their university’s insufficient mental health resources.

It comes after three Bristol University students died in as many weeks, in what are believed to be suicides.

A University spokesperson told Cherwell: “Oxford welcomes the UUK report and will continue to view students’ mental health and wellbeing as a priority, including the need to forge close links with local NHS services.”

Oxford University spends more on mental health services for each student annually than any other university in the country, with £1,000,100 (£48.25 per student) spent in 2016/17, according to statistics obtained by Cherwell last year.

However, the picture is more varied at a college level. Only ten out of Oxford’s 38 Colleges and six Permanent Private Halls offer an on-site counsellor, with four college websites having no reference to mental health resources on offer. Colleges with either full-time or part-time qualified counsellors on-site include Balliol, Brasenose, Hertford (a Welfare Officer trained in CBT), Jesus, Keble, Nuffield, Magdalen, St Cross, St Hugh’s, St John’s, and Somerville.

All undergraduate colleges offer the support of Junior Deans, JCR Welfare Representatives, and trained Peer Supporters. Peer Supporters are students who have undergone official training from the University Counselling service to offer support to students in an informal manner. Each college has a panel of between six and twelve trained Peer Supporters, with approximately 350 active Peer Supporters at the University.

In addition to these staff members, all colleges have chaplains, who are involved in pastoral care. At Balliol, Christ Church, Corpus Christi, Green Templeton, Keble, Merton and University, chaplains act as both Welfare Co-ordinators and College Chaplains. Colleges without a counsellor on-site rely upon the university-wide counselling service, which sees between 11% and 12% of the student population per academic year, according to the service’s web page.

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The Head of Counselling at Oxford and Chair of Heads of University Counselling Services (HUCS), Alan Percy, worked closely with UKK on the recent report. Percy, on behalf of the University administration, has said that: “Oxford is helping lead the development of this important area.”

Oxford’s spokesperson said the University “offers a range of mental health support options based on levels of need and difficulty, from information campaigns and peer support programmes to wellbeing advisers and professionally trained University counselling staff.

They continued: “Oxford’s peer support programme was recently highlighted as an example of good practice in UUK’s new framework on student mental health, and the University’s Counselling Service is currently providing training for academic and non-academic staff in colleges and departments that will enable them to support students who are experiencing difficulties.”