Mental health stigma is an issue for students in further education
The National Union of Students’ new Charter for Mental Health in Further Education Colleges reports that stigma around mental illness prevents many students from accessing mental health services. They call on colleges to not just invest in services but also to look holistically at college life, and create policies and procedures to both provide better mental health support and tackle its causes.
Discussions in the media and academic research tend to focus on the needs of schools and universities but, the NUS ask – what about those students between 16 and 18 in further education (FE)?
Their 2015 mental health survey of FE students found that, in the last year
- 87% of total respondents have felt stress
- 77% have suffered anxiety
- 69% have felt depressed in the last year.
- Most concerning, 33% of total respondents have had suicidal thoughts – around double the figure (17%) for the general population. This rose to 55% amongst respondents who did not identify as heterosexual.
Despite all the awareness raising campaigns, students described a continuing lack of understanding around mental health. Stigma and discrimination relating to mental health was experienced by 90% of young people experience stigma and discrimination about their mental health.
Barriers to accessing treatments included
- Stigma and a perception that one would be considered “weak” for asking for help
- A lack of recognition or acceptance of a problem
- Believing their situation was “not serious enough” to warrant accessing services
Other factors included a perceived lack of staff training in mental health awareness, poor communication of the services available, long waiting lists, concerns about funding and availability of services and a lack of trust in services.
What do students want mental health provision to look like?
- Adequately funded so that students can access the right support when it is needed
- More highly trained counsellors, mental health aware-staff and trained peer supporters
- Proactive rather than fire-fighting crises
Importantly, students want to collaborate in the support they receive. This is encouraging as it denotes a willingness to be empowered and active in the solution to an individual problem.
The NUS reports that “Students don’t simply want to be told that they have to take the only option that is available to them. Mental health issues affect people differently and what works for one student won’t necessarily work for another. They need to be consulted, spoken to and listened to in any discussions around mental health provision.”
As mental health professionals, we should always be flexible in the services we offer. We must recognise and respect that there are a wide range of options in addition to traditional talking therapies, for example courses on mindfulness, resilience and self-care and indeed services such as our blended e-health trauma support programme.
They are not intended to replace traditional talking therapies but reflect the recognition that one size will never fit all.
Read the NUS report at http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/resources/further-education-and-mental-health-report