It comes as no surprise that two thirds of students want their parents to be notified if they are in a mental health crisis at university and I hope that this becomes an obligation that all universities commit to as soon as possible. Bristol University are taking steps to ensure that their mental health support is adequate in the wake of all the tragic suicides they have had in the last few years and have introduced an “opt-in” scheme to inform their parents or a trusted adult of their mental wellbeing that has had a take-up of 95% from the students. Why not take it one step further and ensure that all universities offer an “opt-out” clause? That way there is a better, stronger, wider support network set in place to ensure that the rising numbers of stressed students are helped when they need it.
Communication is obviously key here and parents can of course help, but it should also be down to the universities to provide more skilled people to talk to as well as tutors who are given the sort of timetable that allows them to spend quality time getting to know their students. Now that students have to pay exorbitant fees, some universities are growing exponentially, taking more students and more money, but not adding any additional pastoral support. There should also be more contact hours – students are not getting value for money and the contact hours seem to be basically the same as they were four years ago when they weren’t having to pay. My daughter had less than four hours a week. How is anyone meant to feel they have a support system with people who are interested in their wellbeing with that amount of time in front of real people?
I know I see things differently now that I’m a parent, but I am still gobsmacked that our children could potentially be living in the same house as us, whilst on strong medication for mental health issues, but our need to know is not recognised by the medical profession who see them as adults. What does an “independent adult” actually mean in this day and age? Life has changed for our young people now and university is likely to be the first time they have ever lived away from home. Most finish university and then move back home for potentially years, because they can’t afford housing anymore. Parents should not be left in the dark about their children’s mental health as a result, just as child mental health support shouldn’t just switch to adult support from one day to the next when they’re 18 that can leave them feeling abandoned. But equally, it shouldn’t just be down to the parents and universities need to do more themselves. An entire infrastructure needs to be built up around the students to ensure that no one falls through the gaps, working together on a case by case basis for the best possible results.