Two-thirds of young adults in the UK were so stressed at least once over the past year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope, according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, which has been published to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.
Now the NUS students’ union is raising concerns that learners’ access to mental health support in college – at a time of increasing demand – can be “the difference between succeeding in education or being forced to drop out”.
The warning comes as data from the NUS, obtained through a freedom of information request and shared with Tes Scotland, suggests that only about half of Scotland’s colleges have dedicated mental health support – 13 of the 24 colleges that responded to the request.
This was despite the fact that at 11 of the 13 colleges that supplied relevant data, the number of students seeking counselling services had increased in the past two years. In total, that number rose from 945 to 1,370 between 2014-15 and 2016-17.
“There are pockets of good practice across the sector, but it’s hugely concerning that some colleges don’t have proper processes in place for students seeking counselling,” says NUS Scotland president Luke Humberstone. “Nobody should have their health put at risk because of where they study.
Call for more counselling in colleges
“This year, thousands of people joined us in calling for improved college counselling services, so that every student gets access to the services they need to succeed in their studies. It is welcome that the Scottish government is taking positive steps to ensure that colleges and universities have a range of mental health services in place – with new guidance issued and funding announced. As a starting point, we need to see all institutions have a strategy and proper services in place. Scotland’s students deserve no less.”
In April, the government announced that a group of 22 young people would gather evidence on existing services, encourage debate among their peers and develop recommendations for ministers and service providers as part of the new Youth Commission on Mental Health Services, a feature of the 10-year Mental Health Strategy launched in 2017.
One of the colleges with dedicated mental health support, West College Scotland, says that it has invested heavily in Time4U2, a professional in-house counselling service available to students across all campuses.
The college’s director of student services and communities, Iain Forster-Smith, tells Tes Scotland that this forms “a key part of our health and wellbeing strategy”. Three counsellors work with teaching staff, guidance teams, student services and the students’ association on a “fully accessible and bespoke counselling service”.
Forster-Smith adds: “The leadership of the college has made this investment because we consider health and wellbeing to be a core part of the student journey. As a college, our commitment stems from a recognition that mental health has become significant area where students need support. This is particularly true of those parts of their journey where students are moving to or from college.
“We are also very aware of the social context in which our college, in particular, operates and the challenges this can bring. Our aim is to ensure that every student is able to access our services as they need them, and that the support we offer them has a measurable, direct and positive impact on each individual.”
Colleges Scotland chief executive Shona Struthers says colleges take the mental health and wellbeing of staff and students very seriously. “Many colleges are taking a holistic approach by developing mental health strategies and undertaking training with organisations such as the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) to enhance the support available to staff and students,” she adds.