The number of UEA Medical Centre patients being referred to local mental health services has increased dramatically over the last five years. However, the university’s support services say this is likely attributable to a decreased stigma surrounding mental health problems.
In 2017, there were 573 referrals from the University Medical Service (UMS) to the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), a service which provides mental health support. This is a 205 percent increase on the 2012 figure, though the university itself has seen an increase of thousands more students in recent years. In the last two calendar years, there has been a 26 percent increase in referrals.
Figures obtained by this newspaper’s Freedom of Information request also show there was a 74 percent jump between the 2012 and 2013 referral figures.
The UEA Medical Centre serves the entire Norwich Research Park in addition to the university, so these figures do also account for a population of some patients who are not students.
Dr Jon Sharp, Director of Student Services at UEA, said: “In recent years mental health has become increasingly destigmatised and this is a very welcome societal development but it also means that across all parts of our society increasing numbers of people are looking for more help with mental health issues.
“We’re committed to ensuring we offer UEA students and staff the support they need. UEA’s Mental Health and Wellbeing policy and service offers a stepped model of support that’s tailored to all levels of need, and waiting times for our services are falling.”
The student-led listening service Nightline say they have also seen an increase in contact numbers, though these are not always mental health related.
Nightline’s External Co-ordinator, Alyssa Girvan, said they believe an increased awareness of their service is the reason for their increase in contact numbers. She said: “Thanks to a lot of hard publicity work around Nightline and mental health issues in general, we feel that a significant reason people use our service is because they know it is there and is advertised in such a way that you hopefully do not feel weak or stigmatised for using us.
“There are of course several other factors such as increased student numbers and stressful workloads that also contribute, but our publicity effectiveness is something we have really noticed has had a large impact this year.”
However, the Students’ Union said the referral rates raise questions about how university services work in conjunction with NHS services.
SU Welfare, Community and Diversity Officer India Edwards said: “We need to see evidence of strategic engagement between the University and the Trust that would result in a proper plan.
“We have pressed the University to review student access to medical and healthcare services in the area, and we continue to call for direct contact between UEA leaders and statutory and voluntary health services to improve and better coordinate support for students.”