UEA have released their Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy for Students after months of criticism from the SU for the delay in publishing a mental health strategy.
The SU called the Policy “vague” and said they will continue to call “for clear and transparent resourcing from the University’s budgets for Mental Health and Wellbeing.”
Dr Jane Lawrence, UEA’s Head of Wellbeing, outlined a wish to improve the “promotion of good mental health among all student and staff members of the UEA community.”
A university spokesperson told Concrete that the Policy document outlines “the Vision and Values framework” for UEA’s future approach to student mental health and wellbeing.
It is understood that a presentation of two further documents will be made to UEA’s Learning and Teaching Committee (LTC) in June.
A “Strategic Plan” will outline how to achieve and measure these aims, followed by an “Implementation Plan” which will include “specific actions” and a time frame for implementing the aforementioned values and objectives.
Commenting on the release of the framework, Welfare Community and Diversity Officer, Jo Swo said, “after two years of campaigning” the Policy “will do little to reassure students that the scale of the mental health crisis facing students at UEA is being addressed.”
She added: “There also remain real unanswered questions over the future of the counselling service with the scrapping of counselling courses removing four full time equivalent counsellors from the service. Students have the right to be suspicious of a move to alternative therapies at just the same time that counselling is cut, and the university will need to demonstrate that its reworked service isn’t just a way to manage out demand.”
UEA’s announcement five counselling courses will close from September 2017 has been met with opposition from students currently studying at the Counselling Centre, the Psychotherapy and Counselling Union (PCU), and Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Norwich South Clive Lewis.
A UEA spokesperson said that the model of support outlined in the Policy involves “a range of different therapies and support for students depending on their needs”, including increased peer support, increased Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and person-centered counselling.”
They said: “These are not ‘alternative therapies’ and this is a best-practice model that has been developed with input from the Students’ Union, the Universities UK best practice guide, and is also informed by the good practice developed at York and Bristol universities.”
The university also emphasised that there would be a staff increase by September, in order to “support the new model.” A spokesperson said that the increased focus on counselling and CBT would “mean moving from 8.5 staff currently to 13.5 staff by September.”
They added: “The UK’s Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) recommends a ratio of student facing mental health support staff to students (1:1, 358). Many universities are well below that recommended ratio but UEA will be inline with the HEPI recommendation.”
New hires will include two CBT practitioners, a CBT supervisor, and two psychological wellbeing practitioners.
Recommendations made include forging “closer links with Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Trust and other statutory providers to support UEA students more effectively” and the introduction of “coherent and systematic” patient assessment from September 2017.
It is recommended students be assessed on a one to five scale, ranging from “mild and moderate” to “severe and complex” mental illness. This assessment would then be matched with online resources, which UEA says will pinpoint students’ specific needs more efficiently.
The policy recommends liaison between the Wellbeing Service and external services. It states that “UEA staff, the UEA Students’ Union, the Library and other University services also have important roles.”
“Immediate steps” to improve support for students with mental health difficulties are also suggested. These include developing student feedback and introducing social media support to increase the “prevention of mental ill-health in the UEA community.”
Miss Swo said that the university still needs “a coherent strategy and plan, one that invests in prevention, joins up services across the University, addresses the particular issues faced by groups like postgraduates, and that is informed by student need.”
The Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy acknowledges that postgraduates may “feel less support than students on taught courses”, stating “clear guidelines which indicate what can be expected of supervisors and postgraduate students will help both to understand better what their responsibilities are.”
The policy also mentions that international students may have “differing cultural views on mental health and confidentiality issues” and “may not understand fully the purpose and nature of support services inside and outside the university.”
Miss Swo said the SU “will be pressing the university in the coming weeks to respond to and implement our detailed agenda on Mental Health planning which gathers together two years of student feedback, practice from other institutions and calls for clear and transparent resourcing from the university’s budgets for Mental Health and Wellbeing.”
She also encouraged “any students that have views, stories or worries about the situation to get in touch with us at the SU so we can feed them in.”