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Mental health issues on the rise in colleges

Almost two-thirds of colleges now have dedicated staff to support students' mental health issues, finds AoC-Tes survey

mental health AoC colleges FE

Almost two-thirds of colleges now have dedicated staff to support students' mental health issues, finds AoC-Tes survey

The challenges for colleges posed by students’ mental health issues are becoming more pronounced, according to the annual AoC survey of college leaders, in partnership with Tes.

More than half (56 per cent) of college leaders said they had seen a “significant increase” in the number of 16- to 18-year-olds with a disclosed mental health condition during the past year.

The picture was similar for adult learners: 86 per cent of college leaders said they had noticed an increase in the number of cases among older students.

And, perhaps more challengingly, nearly two-thirds of colleges said they were encountering significant numbers of other students with mental health difficulties who had not formally disclosed them.

Difficulty accessing services

Emily Chapman, vice-president for further education at the NUS students’ union, said she had suffered from “heavy depression and anxiety”. She added the AoC-Tes survey figures were a major cause for concern.

“I have seen this day-to-day in the past, and suffered from it myself for many a year,” said Ms Chapman. “Unfortunately, while more students are disclosing [mental health issues to their colleges], massive cuts to funding mean that many cannot access the support they desperately need.”

The survey, completed by leaders of 90 colleges – a third of the total in England – showed that many institutions have increased their capacity to deal with the mental health of the student body.

Some 63 per cent of colleges have a dedicated staff member to support students with mental health issues. And this comes despite falling budgets: two-thirds of respondents said that outside resources for support had either declined or plateaued, while one in 10 colleges said that outside resources had “significantly declined”.

'Mental health crisis'

Institutions are often supplementing resources to protect students' mental health from other funding streams; none of the respondents reported a drop in spending on support.

Tom Madders, director of campaigns at mental health charity YoungMinds, said there was a “mental health crisis in our classrooms”. The charity is calling for extra resources for colleges to manage the situation, as well as a greater emphasis on student wellbeing in Ofsted inspections. “We are calling for a fundamental rebalancing of the education system so that colleges no longer feel they are being asked to prioritise exam results over the wellbeing of their students,” he added.

Improving cooperation with other services is also key, according to Ms Chapman. “A joined-up approach with NHS services and colleges is required to better support every FE student who faces difficulties,” she said.

The AoC has set up a mental health and wellbeing policy group, bringing together colleges, Public Health England, the Department for Education and NHS England. Next week, the AoC will also publish a collection of case studies to highlight good practice in this area.

This is an edited version of an article in the 8 June edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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