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Colleges report 'significant' rise in mental health problems among students

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The proportion of teenage students with mental health problems has increased significantly in recent years, according to FE colleges.

Some 67 per cent of colleges surveyed by the Association of Colleges (AoC) say they have seen a significant rise in disclosed mental health conditions among 16-18s in the past three years.

In addition, 75 per cent of colleges say they are encountering more students who are experiencing mental health difficulties that they have not disclosed.

All of the 127 colleges surveyed by the AoC say they have dealt with students suffering from depression and anxiety, and all claim to have come across students who have self-harmed.

Respondents believe the problems are caused by the pressures of social media (75 per cent), financial concerns (61 per cent), exam pressure (60 per cent) and concerns about employment (41 per cent). Fifty-five per cent of colleges also say they have experienced mental health budget cuts, either from the Education Funding Agency’s pot for disadvantaged students or support moneys from the Skills Funding Agency.

Although 79 per cent of colleges say that mental health is seen as the responsibility of everyone at the institution, only 35 per cent have a mental health policy in place.

Zoe Hancock, principal of Oaklands College in Hertfordshire, said the issues highlighted in the survey were in line with what her college had been experiencing. She said the college had struggled to access outside help for the growing number of students with mental health problems. This year, it has put a trained counsellor on retainer to help those on a waiting list for specialist support.

The college’s counsellor had an average caseload of 20 students at any one time, she said, adding: “We have a student advice team who are trained to offer counselling and support, but with very serious cases you do need a trained counsellor.” 

Ms Hancock said that the new policy of forcing students to retake English and maths GCSE in college if they had failed to attain a grade C in the subjects was having a “serious” impact on a small number of them.

Richard Caulfield, AoC’s director for the North West, launched the survey after speaking to principals in his region. “I asked ‘what’s the thing that keeps you awake at night?’ While most said funding or Ofsted, a couple said the mental health of their students,” he said. “Every time I raised it with people, they would say it was an issue. They said they had seen increased pressure on their counselling services and student support services. A rise in instances of self-harm came up an awful lot.”

The survey was released at the AoC’s student mental health and well-being conference in London on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the association said: “We believe that further education should be absolutely central to a mental health strategy, and there needs to be much more work across organisations and the government at a strategic level to tackle the issue.” 

Read the full story in the 3 July issue of TES. You can do so on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents. 

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