BACP welcomes the Universities Minister’s call for vice-chancellors to prioritise student mental health and take sustained and serious leadership on the issue. Sam Gyimah said today: “We want mental health support for students to be a top priority for the leadership of all our universities. Progress can only be achieved with their support – I expect them to get behind this important agenda as we otherwise risk failing an entire generation of students.

“Universities should see themselves as ‘in loco parentis’ – not infantilising students, but making sure support is available where required. It is not good enough to suggest that university is about the training of the mind and nothing else, as it is too easy for students to fall between the cracks and to feel overwhelmed and unknown in their new surroundings.”

Together with our Universities and Colleges Division (with its specialist knowledge and experience in the particular psychological challenges of working with young adults in further and higher education), we'll be offering our expertise in the sector to the universities minister to help develop the planned University Mental Health Charter. Embedded counselling support within a university setting must continue to be provided in order to support students with their many and complex mental health needs.

We are deeply concerned that plans are in place to downgrade or outsource mental health provision in several universities and are working to raise awareness and prevent this worrying trend.

We know that university students experience the psychological and developmental needs common to the wider population. However, issues arise when this is then coupled with the need to adapt to a new environment without the usual social supports, the demands of their courses and added financial pressures, plus peer pressure to misuse drugs and alcohol. Many students will experience psychological distress sufficiently enough to impact on their studies.

With a significant number of students - one in four - experiencing mental health difficulties during their studies specialist counsellors, embedded within universities and dedicated to providing student support, are needed more than ever.

Andrew Reeves, Chair of BACP, who worked for many years in a higher education context, says: “Properly resourced counselling in universities can provide accessible, timely, specialist support to distressed students, helping them to continue with, and successfully complete, their studies as well as cope with the specific pressures of university life and common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. It is deeply concerning that some universities are considering downgrading or reducing counselling services within their institutions, particularly surrounding complex mental health needs amongst students and the recently announced suicide rates.

“A service provided within the university setting provides an easy to access, familiar and less stigmatising environment in which to receive mental health support, and so is more likely than traditional NHS-based services to be used by, and be useful to, a student population. Additionally, embedded counselling services are better placed to meet the unique needs of individual institutions.

“Waiting times for assessment and beginning therapy in university and college counselling services are generally significantly better than primary or secondary care mental health services.

“With NHS IAPT support services already oversubscribed and students facing increased emotional and psychological pressures, university-based counselling services needed more than ever.”

Read the full announcement from the Department of Education.