The transition from school to University is difficult for most, if not all. The added pressures of escalating University fees and debt, coupled with the increasingly competitive job market once you finally leave University can lead to untold stress. For those already vulnerable, with mental health issues, this can lead to a stressful and negative environment. With stress can come an inability to manage academic success.
Thankfully, the stigma around mental health is diminishing and record numbers of students are disclosing mental health problems in the application process. The benefit of this is that Universities will be better able to support students with underlying mental health problems once on notice of them. Further, it affords the student protection under the Equality Act 2010, should future academic problems arise.
As always, the reality is that the support offered by some Higher Education Institutions is wholly deficient. It is not uncommon, for those charged with supporting students, can sometimes lack the basic understanding and empathy towards mental health problems.
As we pay more for our education, we rightly expect a better service in return. I have seen an influx in cases from students who are being left without sufficient support from their Universities to help them manage both their mental health and their studies. I have become increasingly dismayed by the attitudes of various Higher Education Institutions towards offering support. Universities are trying to hold students more accountable for accessing support, but in some instances, Universities can completely fail to understand that for some mental health problems this is simply not possible. The quality of training and understanding of mental health issues among staff is also an obstacle, preventing sufficient support from being accessed by students. I have seen some worrying attitudes and expectations amongst staff.
The University need to understand their obligations under the Equality Act 2010. Once on notice of a condition protected under the Act, there is an anticipatory duty upon the University. The University need to understand that they are legally obligated to support such students.
With the increase in the number of students suffering from mental health issues the Universities approach and attitude needs to change towards a more proactive supportive environment.
I have recently achieved some very positive outcomes for clients with ongoing mental health issues. In one case a student is being allowed to repeat their second year in the hope of achieving better results with the right academic support in place. In another case, a student awarded a Higher Education Diploma, is being allowed to return to complete their final year and have the chance of graduating with a degree. We have even managed to ensure a student’s return to their nursing degree following a second allegation of plagiarism. In all cases, underlying mental health issues were a dominant factor.