Skip to main content

Breaking the stigma of mental health

20 May 2016

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. For too long, mental health has faced a stigma – it’s something that might often happen to someone, but is certainly something that wouldn’t be talked about openly. But that’s wrong. According to Mind, every year, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. So it is an important issue which must be highlighted and understood. The impact of mental health issues cannot be underestimated. At a national level there is increasing political and media attention being paid to mental health, particularly amongst young people. However, this is often focused on schools with little mention of colleges despite the fact that further education and sixth form colleges educate far more 16 to 18-year-olds than schools. Last year, an Association of Colleges (AoC) survey found that 66% of colleges had seen a significant increase in mental health related issues with students in the last three years, with a further 22% saying they had increased. At the same time, 43% of colleges said they had no full time counsellor or support worked and 55% had experienced cutbacks in this area. Colleges have reported an increase in referrals to welfare services, waiting lists for counselling and the difficulties involved in making referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), to name only a few issues. Our survey highlighted that good practice occurs when college staff are able to work in close collaboration with health agencies. For example, some colleges have a member of staff funded by CAMHS or Public Health England and others may have a nurse employed by NHS. This type of joint provision not only enhances the support which can be provided for particularly vulnerable students, but has a knock on effect across the organisation as a whole. However, our survey results showed that only 26% of colleges had this type of joint provision. There needs to be work done on a national and local basis to ensure that college students are provided with the support they need. In the north west, for example, colleges are working together to develop networks of welfare leads, which reflect activity and service on a local level. This looks to breakdown the different referral systems, access criteria and services for students dependant on which mental health provider area they fall in to provide a more local approach. So far this work has identified four themes which will be integral to the future: Strategic engagement – making sure there is effectively work between providers, commissioners, health and wellbeing boards and the third sector Staff training – using available resources to raise awareness of the issues amongst college staff Resilience – which looks at ways to support students to increase their personal resilience and improving the preventative work in colleges Good practice – sharing information on how colleges and the health service tackle mental health in order to shape future services. Alongside providing education, supporting young people is a core function for colleges. We all have a duty to make sure that students from all institutions are provided with the awareness, support and guidance they need to tackle mental health. Liz Maudslay is AoC's Policy Manager for LLDD and Richard Caulfield is AoC's Regional Director for the North West