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Support for mental health needed

08 February 2017

We are heading to a crisis point in mental health. The Government has a moral, legal and economic obligation to make sure there is proper mental health support provided to everyone across the country. Mental health support is critical for colleges. An important starting point to address the crisis is the work that all colleges do to support the wellbeing of students. This is a key part of the preventative strategies that can help avoid mental health problems arising and keep all students well. However, many students arrive in college with pre-existing mental health conditions, or develop them during their period of study. That’s why as part of the Association of College’s (AoC’s) campaign for fair funding includes a recommendation to provide support for mental health services in colleges. We believe that all colleges should receive training for staff, in the same way that Government plans to support training of school staff. We also believe that it would be a good investment for mental health agencies to fund specialist mental health advisers, who work in, and with, colleges to tackle issues at source, in order to reduce future costs to the health services and society as a whole. Research from AoC, published yesterday, highlights just how important this is. Our survey found nearly three quarters of colleges had to refer students to hospital accident and emergency departments in the last year due to an urgent mental health crisis. Situations like this add to an already stressful situation for the student and places unneeded demand on our already stretched NHS. Placing co-funded mental health staff in every college would be a key step to drastically reduce this situation from continuing and worsening. Such staff can work alongside college staff in counselling and welfare teams and teachers, in order to continuously develop the skill base within colleges. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education have both stated how important mental health support for young people is. It’s disappointing that the rhetoric around it so far has focused on schools and not included colleges sufficiently. The fact is there are more 16 to 18-year-olds in colleges than schools. We cannot allow them to slip through the cracks. Colleges across the country do excellent work in helping students to stay well and to support those with mental ill health, keeping people out of A&E and hospital beds. A number have strong relationships with local NHS and mental health teams. However, this isn’t consistent. Government and the NHS need to target a share of resources to colleges, to provide consistent support to students of all ages, across England if we are to stop the growing mental health crisis. Ian Ashman is the President of the Association of Colleges