Cambridge University Mental Health Service ‘Ineffective’
Cambridge University’s mental health services in the wake of David Nutt were seen to be ineffective, unsustainable and un-targeted by an internal BBC report.
More than five students at Cambridge University have died since March, and one is confirmed as a suicide and four suspected to be suicides.
To investigate the mental health services prior to the suicides, an audit showed their “likely not to be efficient”.
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There is not yet any evidence of whether the students who died used the school’s mental health services.
The BBC has also been contacted by about a dozen current and former students with experience of those services, who are concerned about “fitness to study” procedures which can be initiated after somebody tries to kill themselves.
One student described feeling like they were on trial in a court-like setting, going to talk to complete strangers about things that they hadn’t fully addressed with a therapist.
A former student- said her overall experience of mental health support at college left her with the impression that “if I were to die, college didn’t want me to die on their property.”
“It seemed that no steps were taken to actually take care of me,” she said. “Even the actions taken only seemed meant to protect the reputation of the college and their liability.”
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Natalie Acton, Head of Student Wellbeing at the University of Nottingham, told the BBC that they contracted a mental health review to ensure they were providing the best service possible for their students. Although it may not have been a review with a “strategic” in its name, internal reviews on any issue are necessary
From a report released by an external reviewer, it’s been determined that “the current approach is uncoordinated and there is no clarity of purpose or definition of the university’s role, aims or limits in its support for student mental health and wellbeing.”
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As a result of multiple reviews from different people last year, including this one, student and staff discontent over the online system is evident.
The lack of university-wide suicide prevention and response strategy and out-of-hours crisis service are “pressing” issues highlighted in previous reviews
The lack of a crisis service could cause increased incidents of suicidal behavior, near-misses and Cambridge University exposure in general.
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The university spends $5 million each year on mental health services, and the review found it was one of the biggest spenders in student mental health and wellness support.
“The forecast is alarming,” the report reads. “If current funding levels don’t change, costs will continue to spiral as more and more young people go untreated for mental health issues.”
The review stated that there are significant levels of support for the 31 colleges and senior tutors, tutors and other college or university staff with a welfare role are overworked and dealing with high levels of demand.
A student told the BBC that while they felt supported within their own college, “it just isn’t fair that it’s been available for me when it hasn’t been for other students at other colleges within the same university.”
The Cambridge University Counselling Service is able to provide up to four sessions for students and either discharge them, or if they require long-term therapy at a charity, recommend self-referral.
Unfortunately, students often ‘bounce back’ to UCSA (33%) or shift to other sources of provision offered across a collegiate university.
The review found that there was an “inefficient and costly” way in which to handle situations of mental health concerns at Cambridge University College Cork either through the university counselling staff or by having college-based psychologists.
“The current approach is ineffective and unsustainable given the forecast increases in levels of need for support and the corresponding growth in costs.”
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“This current approach does not discern between varying levels of student need, is targeting people who don’t need it and is unsustainable.”
In response to the findings of the review, Ms Acton told the BBC: “We have seen unprecedented increases in the numbers of students coming to Cambridge University with mental health problems and they are coming to us. Please, feel free to come forward.”
“We now have a significant and ongoing program of reforming colleges and universities to make sure we do everything we can, but this all takes time. It’s going to be a long, hard fight.”
Because of the review, they wanted to “ensure that for every student there is a minimum base line of support available”
“Colleges will include a person who can support them in life but they may also have someone who is able to prevent mental health problems from becoming serious.” She added.
We are in the process of introducing training sessions in which staff members participate and are aware of NHS support lines. From October, we will have out-of-hour Mental Health Professional lines that can be called by university employees who need help with their students during mental crises.