An MP and ex-health minister has highlighted huge variations in the provision of mental health services by universities.

Sir Norman Lamb spoke out after information gathered by his office found long waiting times for university mental health care, huge differences in investment between institutions, and that some universities did not record relevant data about their mental health services.

His Freedom of Information request, which 110 universities responded to, also revealed that many universities did not monitor how well services were used, or whether they were meeting the needs of students.

We’re currently involved in a research project to explore the effectiveness of university counselling and enhance services for future students who want to access this support.

We’re also contributing to Student Minds’ mental health charter for universities.

Jo Holmes, our Children, Young People and Families lead, said: “Sir Norman Lamb raises some really important issues about university mental health services. Many of these tie in to projects we’re involved in to help enhance university counselling services and understand more about the support they give to students and its outcomes.

Counselling at the heart

“We need to ensure that embedded university counselling and mental health services are given the priority they deserve by universities and are not just treated as a luxury or an optional extra.

“Counselling should be at the heart of this. Our members are carrying out vital work that makes a difference in the lives of students at a time when they are away from home and their usual support networks.

“We know there’s been an increase in demand for their services and many counsellors are coming up with innovative and practical ways to help students in need that complement their one-to-one counselling services.

Bigger picture

“We also have to look at the bigger picture. University services can’t do this alone. We need to ensure that there is the support within the NHS and that services link up together to provide the best possible care for students who are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.

Our research about student counselling services is being carried out by the SCORE consortium – which stands for Student Counselling Outcomes, Research and Evaluation.

The group is made up of researchers from universities and BACP as well as members of our University and Colleges Division, who are practising counsellors and/or heads of university counselling services.

The consortium’s first paper published in July says the field of student mental health is hampered by: vague language; a rush to action by universities in the absence of robust evidence; and a lack of overall coordination and collaboration in the collection and use of data on student mental health and wellbeing.

Best practice

We’re also looking at examples of best practice within the university counselling sector which we can share with other higher education mental health services.

Jo has been visiting universities across the country as part of a project to highlight the good work of their counselling services.

She’s gathering information about different aspects of what they do, including how they measure clients’ outcomes, what sort of data they collect and how they publicise their service to students.

She hopes to share their best practice with other university services to help them develop how they work in the future.