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Blog: Tackling University Mental Health

University mental health is a national issue. In fact, there is increasing pressure for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) across the UK to adopt a proactive approach by developing a holistic institutional strategy, in the form of a University Mental Health Charter by Student Minds, to tackle university mental health and promote better student mental wellbeing. So we’re bringing plenty of positive changes to our Health Centre!

About time! What’s been happening?

Some of you may be aware of the internal review of the NHS GP Surgery which I undertook alongside Professor Bob O’Keefe, Vice Principal (Student Experience) back in October 2017. The conclusion of the review and how I lobbied the College and the GP Surgery to address different areas of improvement can be found in my previous blog.

Since July 2018, the College has also brought in Dr. Dominique Thompson, a national student mental health expert, to look into how to streamline the process for students to access and be referred to the correct mental health support when they need it.

Tell me more!

One of the key issues that was identified is how the support services provided by the College communicate with external services, such as the NHS GP Surgery. For example, a student who approaches a Mental Health Advisor at the Disability & Dyslexia Services (DDS) for guidance on how to receive a mental health diagnosis from the GP Surgery, will have a very different experience compared to a student who first approaches their personal tutor or the Student Services Centre. This suggests that the current system is complex and difficult to navigate for its common users, as many students often receive different experiences finding a solution to the same issue.

The proposed solution is to introduce a Mental Health Primary Care Worker (MHPCW), a College-funded role which will act as the initial contact point for all students in need of a mental health triage. Students can seek help with mental health advice from the MHPCW or receive a referral to the correct support services, or a healthcare professional. As the MHPCW has to follow a strict criteria before referring a student to a specific service, students are now more likely to receive the support they need in the first instance. This will hopefully result in a greater consistency in student experience across different support services, including those provided by the College and the NHS.

The work goes on

Given that I promised students in my manifesto that I would lobby the College for greater funding and increased provision around mental health when I was running in last year’s SU elections, I am beyond excited to see the introduction of the MHPCW role which aims to help more students gain access to the right kind of mental health support.

As many of you know, change can take a long time to happen. My campaign to improve the GP Surgery has taken me two years as VP Welfare & Diversity to achieve, and there’s always more to be done.

The introduction of the MHPCW is the first step in the right direction of streamlining access to crucial support services for students at Royal Holloway – what we need is a full-scale review of the College’s support and advisory services looking at its current effectiveness and identify ways to improve its efficiency and its communication with different departments at the College.

While I may not see the second phase of this project come to fruition with my remaining time in office, I look forward to hearing from the candidates running for the VP Welfare & Diversity role about their manifestos in the upcoming election. If you strongly believe reforming the College’s support and advisory services is an important cause, make sure to attend Candidate Question Time for your chance to quiz the election candidates on their priorities!

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and comments with me via email or Facebook!

Willow Wong // Vice President Welfare and Diversity