Bristol University welcomes new student mental health taskforce



By Imogen Horton, News Editor

Coinciding with University Mental Health Day, 7 March, Education Secretary Damian Hinds announced a new taskforce set up to support students dealing with the challenges that starting university can include to preserve their mental health.

The University of Bristol has welcomed the news, a spokesperson saying: 'It is reassuring that the Government share our concern that mental health is fast emerging as one of the biggest public health issue affecting young people.'

The taskforce, which will be known as the Education Transitions Network, will focus on students moving from sixth-form or college to university looking at how they can be better supported in their crucial first year.

The Department for Education has identified four key areas of risk that can affect the mental health of students: independent living, independent learning, wellbeing and healthy relationships.

They believe that combating issues from managing finances to alcohol and drugs misuse, social media pressure to helping students cope with their workload and develop their own learning style and skills, will help improve the mental health of students.

The taskforce plans to offer first years training and guidance on how to combat these issues associated with starting university.

Members of the new taskforce will include leading sector groups such as UCAS, the National Union of Students, Student Minds, Universities UK, the Association of Colleges and the Office for Students.

Their aim will be to develop measures to help students make a smooth transition into higher education and help maintain positive mental health.

The University of Bristol have identified similarities in the priorities of the task force and their own mental health strategies.

A University spokesman said: 'Our recently launched mental health and wellbeing strategy aims to support our students’ wellbeing during their transition into university life and throughout their time with us, as well as helping them build life skills and resilience to cope with the pressures they face. This has been developed in partnership with Universities UK (UUK) and Public Health England (PHE) and follows best-practice recommendations and the framework outlined by UUK.'

'Part of this work on strengthening support during transition into university includes an ‘opt-in’ policy, which encourages our students to allow us to include a third party, chosen by the student themselves, in discussions on their mental or physical health where we have significant concerns.'

'We have also played a leading role along with Universities UK and Papyrus, the UK's national charity dedicated to the prevention of suicide among young people, in the creation of new published guidance to help universities prevent student suicides.'

The idea behind the taskforce was first raised last year by former Universities Minister Sam Gyimah as part of new initiative to improve student mental health. Other measures suggested include the development of a University Mental Health Charter, led by Student Minds, which will reward institutions that deliver improved student mental health.

Last December, following Bristol University's implementation of its 'opt-in' policy,the Education Secretary urged an expert panel including Universities UK to do all in its power to help Universities do more to reach out to students’ emergency contacts when in the best interests of a student’s health.

Universities UK is now leading a task group to explore how students’ families and friends can be involved in mental health support and care while ensuring the confidentiality rights of students are fully respected.

Featured Image: Epigram / Cameron Scheijde

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