University of Birmingham ranked among the worst for student mental health support

Mental health charity HUMEN has ranked 80 universities on how they support students with their mental health

A men’s mental health charity has created a league table aiming to rank major UK universities. by the support they provide to students.

The charity, HUMEN, said its new ranking was a response to its concerns about student welfare, especially during the pandemic, and would be repeated annually. Suicide is the biggest killer of under 35s in the UK.

HUMEN approached 80 universities which have 10,000 students or more via a Freedom of Information request, and surveyed 7,200 students to create their league table.

It assesses five measures, including the spend on mental health provision per head and student satisfaction with support services. The charity said it found huge variation in provision, such as spending per student of between £3 and £70.

It scores universities on five key criteria, including student satisfaction with mental health services, student engagement, awareness and access to mental health programmes, university mental health budgets and staff training.

The data has revealed that while several universities are providing effective mental health care for their students, others have a troubling lack of mental health support available.

The University of Reading made the top spot, although Mr Hawkins said that no university “scored completely full marks so I think that there is always room to improve”.

Humen founder River Hawkins said: “Suicide is the biggest killer of under-35s in the UK. Then, during the pandemic, there were a lot of student suicides and the way that the universities dealt with it was not the best.

“So I wanted to create a league table so that current students, prospective students and their families have a clear, simple way to understand how well they are going to be supported when making their choices for university.”

The University of Birmingham was placed at the bottom of the table. Birmingham was also among a number of universities which questioned the methodology behind the league table. HUMEN negatively marked univeristities which did not respond to its Freedom of Information request, but has not identified which, if any, universities did not respond.

University of BirminghamUniversity of Birmingham
University of Birmingham

What has the University of Birmingham said about the data?

A spokesperson for the University of Birmingham said: “We take our responsibility to students very seriously and provide a comprehensive range of wellbeing and support services.

“We invest more than £2m annually on staff and partner services who directly support students with their mental health and wellbeing. We do not recognise the data in this league table or how it was derived and believe it is at best misleading. It does not reflect the significant investment the University has made or service enhancements seen in recent years.

“The University regularly seeks feedback from students on service quality and priorities including, this year, our first annual wellbeing survey which asked students to rate their own mental wellbeing and an independent review of student feedback from the University’s Guild of Students.

“Positive and constructive feedback from students informs our continuous improvement, awareness-raising and campaigning. In response to student feedback this year we have launched a significant “time to talk” campaign encouraging students to access support at particular times in the academic year. We have also been targeting students who are under-represented in accessing support, including but not limited to male students.

“We provide an extensive network of support services, including our 24/7 year-round mental health support service, UBHeard, and we work very closely with specialist providers and agencies within the city of Birmingham.

“Our wellbeing services are provided through an integrated network of support systems, operating at three primary levels: Wellbeing Teams in Schools and Colleges; Student Wellbeing Services; and services provided through partner organisations (including PAUSE, NHS Services, local GP, or other specialist agencies, and the Guild of Students).

“The Mental Health and Wellbeing Service is staffed by a team of experienced and qualified Practitioners who provide therapeutic support. Leading academics from the University’s Institute of Mental Health deliver research-informed guidance that informs practice to respond to suicidal behaviours and suicide prevention.

“Our specialist Pause service, tried and tested elsewhere in the city, provides no-wait drop-in services for students delivered in partnership with the Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and the Children’s Society.

“First responders at the University receive Mental Health First Aid training and the University has its own trainers to deliver this. Mechanisms for supporting vulnerable students and those at risk are embedded in our support and escalation procedures that underpin our approach to supporting student mental health and wellbeing.”

The University added further context by outling the following:

· A conservative estimate of the financial investment across the breadth of core wellbeing support currently provided is in excess of £14m per annum. This includes the costs of staffing for wellbeing teams in Colleges/Schools and within Student Services (in excess of £2m) and the substantial on-going investment in support of reducing student financial hardship, support for students with disabilities and investment in partner-provided services (in excess of £12m).

· The University of Birmingham developed the [email protected] service, an innovative partnership with Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and the Children’s Society to create a student co-produced, no wait mental health drop-in hub available on campus and virtually. The internationally unique service focusses on early intervention approaches to mental health support and destigmatisation. The service supported over 2,500 students over the pandemic including high proportions of service users from underrepresented student groups. Originally funded via the OfS Challenge Competition, the programme is now co-funded by the partnership and is a core service integrated into the fabric of the University and community mental health services.

· The University has developed a ‘Wellbeing Development Programme’, a robust training package for the well-established ‘Wellbeing Network’ of teams and departments across the organisation. This includes ‘Recognise and Refer’ training for frontline service teams in Library Services, Accommodation, UBSport, Careers, Security and the Guild of Students as well as extensive bespoke training for Student Wellbeing roles. The programme is reviewed annually to understand where additional training and support is required for those roles, relative to the trends presented in student need throughout the academic cycle. The programme includes partnership working and delivery with drug, alcohol, gambling and gaming services, Mental Health First Aid England, RSVP, the regional Sexual Assault Referral Centre, Black Country Women’s Aid and many others.

· The University delivers the UK’s first higher education Collegiate Recovery Programme ‘Better Than Well’ to provide students with safe spaces for abstinence based recovery from additions and compulsions. In addition, the University compliments this service by delivering the first University SMART Recovery programme for students experiencing problematic behaviours related to compulsion and addictions (e.g. drugs, alcohol, disordered eating, gambling, gaming and pornography). Both programmes are heavily used by the student community and are embedded into the wider University and community student wellbeing and mental health ecosystem.

· UB Heard - In response to continuing demand for services outside of our typical operating hours, a pilot Student Assistance Programme was introduced in April 2021 in partnership with Spectrum Life. Co-produced with staff and students, the service provided access to counsellors and mental health practitioners 24/7/365 – and available globally to students who were continuing to study remotely around the world. High levels of satisfaction were reported from 322 student users in the pilot and as a result the service has now been established as part of our core offer.

Many university students have inadequate access to essential mental health services.Many university students have inadequate access to essential mental health services.
Many university students have inadequate access to essential mental health services.

Why is HUMEN is raising the issue of university students’ mental health?

Last week the UK government announced £3m in funding for student university mental health services, but Humen says this is only 1% of the figure needed to solve the issue.

Founder of mental health charity HUMEN River Hawkins said: “While it’s encouraging to see a number of universities performing well in HUMEN’s University Mental Health League Table, all universities need to make immediate improvements so students get the essential care they need, particularly during a national mental health crisis following the pandemic.

“We want universities and students to consider mental health support as much as they value academic performance. As well as providing universities with expert advice on the support structures students critically need, HUMEN pledges to open 100 HUMEN Spaces in the next five years in university towns to provide an anonymous, safe space for young people.’’

“HUMEN is also disappointed in the government’s mental health package, which is around £1 per student and wouldn’t even buy a cup of coffee – the budget should be £100 per student. HUMEN has a wealth of insight on shocking university budgets and lack of staff training on mental health and urges the government to take this seriously, rather than insulting the families of students who have been lost to suicide.”

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