Mental Health Policy

Policy passed at National Conference 2021

Mental Health 2021

What is the issue?
Over recent years, a mental health crisis amongst UK students has emerged. According to a 2019 government report, the number of students in higher education experiencing mental health problems has doubled since 2014/2015[1]. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated this issue, with over half of students saying that their mental health has deteriorated as a result [2].
This crisis is mirrored across the education sector, affecting students in Further Education and apprenticeships as well as in Higher Education.
The repercussions of COVID-19, however, are a symptom of a deeper problem rooted in the current conditions within education institutions.
Transitions into education pose a particular challenge. Students arriving at university or college for the first time need to adapt to significant changes, including often moving to a new location, adapting to a new culture, establishing a social network, and coping with disability. Institutional structures also reinforce broader social inequalities and injustices along the lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability. These factors that are intrinsic to university can give rise to anxiety and stress, and predispose students to mental health disorders.
There is undoubtedly a lack of proper mental health provision, with services such as counselling chronically underfunded across the country, but there are also few attempts from universities to tackle the root causes of, and factors which inflame, students’ mental health issues.
This proposal focuses on building a movement which campaigns for educational institutions taking a preventative approach to students’ mental health by tackling key factors such as discrimination, excessive workloads and limited access to funding and supportive resources.

Why is it important to us as a movement?
UK education institutions broadly seem to be failing at addressing the issues relating to students’ mental health: crises are not isolated to specific institutions, they are prevalent in universities across the UK.
There are issues entrenched in the whole education sector regarding this issue. The marketised education system treats students as consumers and encourages universities to run themselves as businesses focused on competing with other institutions. A focus on rankings and generating profit often eclipses the more important focus on students’ actual experiences and, fundamentally, their wellbeing.
As a national body representing students, NUS should advocate for sector-wide efforts to adopt more preventative measures. The structurally embedded nature of the student mental health crisis necessitates a collaborative approach from students across the UK, ensuring that student wellbeing remains central to conversations both at an institutional and national level.

What is the end result?
The aim is to transform the structures which currently produce the conditions in which mental health problems are sparked and exacerbated within education institutions, with the ultimate vision being a higher education system which places students and their wellbeing at the heart of university policies and structures. Universities and Colleges will have properly funded mental health support for all those who need it, but this will be combined with a proactive preventative approach to addressing problems that can impact students’ mental health.

Education institutions will:
- Adopt a “whole institution” approach to the issue of student wellbeing, recognising that mental health must be addressed through policies on welfare, education and accessibility.
- Centre principles of liberation and equality in their response to the student mental health crisis, recognising the unique difficulties faced by marginalised students and the need for targeted support. Measures such as improved training for pastoral staff, competent and well-funded support services and inclusive complaints procedures should be developed in consultation with relevant student groups .
- Increase hardship funding provision for students less able to meet the cost of higher education and ensure that this is well-signposted and easily accessible . This should also be supported with measures to remove the financial barriers to accessing specialist support services through setting up targeted funds to cover fees and travel costs.
- Establish advisory and support structures (e.g. welfare hubs) which acknowledge the links between welfare and education provision; these structures could be sites for political education, staff training and skills support for students, in addition to counselling, advice and guidance. Services for students which include trained staff acting as advocates/intermediaries and signposting support, resources and accessibility information could also be incorporated into this system.


Ideas for Implementation
Short term goals addressing the immediate issues caused by COVID-19. Medium term focused on things like adjustment support for students that are just entering university. Long term goals focusing on trying to make structural changes to university
Unpack the language of structures to more amicable, clear and definable policy goals. There should be a whole-course approach. Not only preventive. Topics: discrimination, excessive workloads, cultural differences for international & PhD student.
Action attached to policy to conduct further research into sub groups of students needs, international, FE, BAME, Disabled, Carers, Care leavers, Apprentices , LGBTQ+, Trans etc...
Ensure that the institutions work with local communities too so that e.g LGBTQ+ societies link in with external organisation allowing for continued support and safe spaces
What practical solutions are - when will they be implemented - how will they be funded ? An even very rough framework for what we would suggest would be beneficial. Next steps: Organise focus groups w/studs
Not only provision of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in the NHS. Cultural training is needed.
We need an international concern group
Amendment: NUS to Campaign to introduce wellbeing and mental health support ratings on university rankings(Submitted by Milo Dack - happy to elaborate further)
Specialist councillors/ therapists for minority groups should be a stated point in the policy
Ask for mental health to be embodied in institutions strategic plans with short and long term goals to measure achievement and impact
Deaf students face specific and unique access issues to mental health services that haven't been addressed. Access to BSL services should be enshrined as they're often forgotten (even by NUS)
Regulations over internal counsellors to ensure a high standard of service and care
disabled students especially deaf and hard of hearing students. assessability of support
NUS promote a 3 stage goals. For short-terms goals to tackle students facing mental problems under COV-19. For a long term goals, reform the services for counselling in the Uni and specialised counselling services
Training for admins, lecturers, departments, and academic staff in general. Urgently.
Lobbying the changes in the government systems for universal change around mental health, including all liberation groups 


Policy passed at Liberation Conference 2022

Mental Health 2022

What is the issue facing students?

Mental health is an important topic on the agenda of most university students. Even before COVID there was a shift in the willingness of students to talk about their mental health, this can be seen in the number of UK applicants to UCAS that shared a mental health condition having increased by 450% ( Although some would argue this is a good thing and it is, the issue is what happens next when the students are at university. University mental health support is often varied and overwhelmed by high demand, which further amplifies poor mental health on the students that require it. Poor mental health can heavily impact students’ grades, cause them to drop out or even lead to suicide – all areas have increased in recent years 

Why is it important to us as a movement?

( Universities need to improve and expand their mental health support. Furthermore, this mental health support needs to be inclusive and fit for the diverse range of students who attend university.  
For this to happen a whole university approach to mental health is needed and by doing so it would improve mental wellbeing that enables learning, work and community ( “The whole university approach recommends that all aspects of university life promote and support student and staff mental health” (Ibid). Furthermore, it is necessary that the support offered is fully inclusive and best supports all student communities. Often student communities such as disabled, LGBTQA+ and BAME are not fully supported or reflected in the services they need which creates more barriers in accessing and using vital services. For some students just asking for help is a challenge, once they have overcome that to find they have to wait six months to access an overwhelmed system, or that it is limited or no support that is suitable for them just makes the challenge almost impossible. COVID has only made this situation worse, there has been a rise in those suffering in ill mental health and for some returning or staring on campus is only making it worse. There are new and unexpected challenges to overcome. For most universities they did not have enough counselors before COVID, and now they are suffering with illnesses causing cancellations plus more students wanting to access services. We were already seeing a new era in mental health for students but thanks to COVID it is becoming a crisis – universities need to admit this and create positive change to tackle the issue. 

What would the world look like if we changed it?

In an ideal world, universities would review their systems, improve services and implement a whole university approach when it comes to mental health that would benefit students but also staff. They would review the number of mental health cases that are stated on entry to university, review waiting lists, services they provide, and the data they gather throughout a students’ journey to understand what their institutions need. They need to spend money to hire more counselors, improve services and make inclusive and reflective of their student population – they have the data there, they need to use it to make positive changes. Students deserve better and the universities have the means to make it better for them and should want to help, after all better mental health will benefit them. There might be mental health charters, guidance, and panels to ensure universities are doing something about mental health, but it is not enough. The NUS needs to lobby universities to make changes now. Students need support now. They need support and services that are inclusive and reflect them. The time is now on student mental health. It is time to admit a mental health emergency.