At the 2016 NUS National Conference, which this year will take place in Brighton from 19-21 April, YUSU is set to lead a motion on behalf of five Students’ Unions which urges the NUS to “prioritise mental health in the Welfare Zone in the year ahead”.
The motion, which will be taken to the conference floor by Scott Dawson, YUSU Community & Well-being Officer, is compiled of proposals made by York University Students’ Union, Oxford University Students’ Union, UEA Students’ Union, Sheffield College Students’ Union, and Liverpool Guild of Students. Dawson originally put together YUSU’s own motion entitled ‘Tackling the Crisis of Mental Health on Campuses’, which Ben Leatham, YUSU President, compiled with those of the above Students’ Unions to make for a group endeavour.
It calls for a national campaign for mental health, led by the NUS and implemented at all Higher Education and Further Education institutions. Its main proposals include a drive for the NUS to oppose the government’s DSA cuts, support Students’ Unions in lobbying for appropriate and accessible services for students with a full range of mental health conditions, and campaign for mandatory employment of specialised staff, as well as Mental Health First Aid Training for academic and frontline staff who are often students’ first point of contact for welfare issues.
The motion also claims signposting within universities needs to be better, so students are aware of what support is appropriate for them. In addition, academic institutions should be careful to set out fair expectations for students to avoid too much pressure put upon them, and aim to decrease the stigma attached to talking about and seeking help for mental health difficulties.
This action is in light of the Unions’ report that students are particularly susceptible to mental health problems, and the number of young people suffering from such complications is rising year on year in line with budget cuts made to mental healthcare nationwide.
The motion states that: “Mental health trusts in England have seen their budgets fall by £600m according to Community Care; young people’s services were cut by £35 million in 2015.
“Students face particular mental health issues. In line with national trends, mental health problems amongst students are on the increase; the proportion of disabled students who declared a mental health condition increased from 6 per cent in 2007-09 to 9.6 per cent in 11-12; from 0.4 per cent to 0.8 per cent of the entire student population.”
In a survey of 1,093 students conducted by the NHS in 2015, “Eight out of ten students (78 per cent) say they experienced mental health issues in the last year.
“[…] More than half (54 per cent) of respondents who reported having experienced mental health problems said they did not seek support.
“A third said they would not know where to get mental health support from at their college or university if they needed it, while 40 per cent reported being nervous about the support they would receive from their institution.”
The motion will be presented to representatives from 600 Students’ Unions at the conference in April, where the board will take a vote on policy to be set for the year ahead.
Commenting on YUSU’s participation in the motion, Leatham told Nouse: “I am very proud that York is taking the lead on presenting a motion to the NUS National Conference on the topic of student mental health. The fact that we had to merge five motions of a similar nature from Students’ Unions across the country shows just how serious this issue is.
One of my aims this year has been to get students at York more engaged in national politics. Mental health services are quite simply failing to meet the needs of vulnerable people and the problems we’re seeing at York are being felt nationwide. It is only right that we make our voices heard and take a lead on delivering real change. Our motion is a fantastic step forward and offers a real opportunity to get the issue of mental health onto the national agenda. We’ll be presenting it to over 600 Students’ Unions and I’m really excited to see how it plays out at conference next month.”