Two MPs, the Chief Executive of Norwich City Council, and the mother of a UEA student who took his own life on university grounds are all supporters of a campaign launched today by this newspaper. Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South and member of the shadow cabinet joined Tory rebel and former health minister Steve Brine MP in supporting the campaign. Beverley Bishop, the mother of Jess Fairweather, who died last year on campus, also pledged her support for the campaign alongside a number of UEA students and their relatives. The Concrete Mental Health Crisis Campaign will run throughout the year with articles, interviews, features and events in a bid to open up the conversation on mental health and hold UEA to account.
It comes after UEA students Jonathan Walker (23), Jess Fairweather (20), Nick Sadler (25) and Theo Brennan-Hulme (21) were all found dead in the space of just 10 months. In two cases these were found to be suicides. Inquests are pending for Mr Sadler and Mr Brennan-Hulme. Three of the students were found on university grounds.
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, told Concrete: “The crisis in this area is very much a function of wider failure in our NHS mental health services – a failure that has been driven by nine years of cuts.
“As a result too many students have fallen through ever widening cracks in the service, often with disastrous consequences.
“The university alone will not be able to plug the gaps in this systematically underfunded service, but it can step-up its game in terms of pro-activity, support and resourcing.
This campaign and its pledges ensure this will happen.”
Concrete has produced a number of flyers depicting the campaign’s five-point manifesto (see inset). The manifesto includes a desire to “open up the chat on mental health” as well as to “inform parents or guardians about their child’s mental health issues”.
In a statement Concrete said: “While we understand UEA is taking this mental health crisis seriously, we are putting forward a number of suggestions we believe the university should consider, from informing students’ parents or guardians about their child’s mental health issues to working alongside staff from other universities that have experienced similar mental health crises.
“We want to use our platform as UEA’s official student newspaper to hold the university to account and allow students to join the conversation on mental health.”
Clive Lewis added: “This is a fantastic campaign and one I’m more than happy to support”, and called the campaign a “ground breaking initiative”.
This mental health crisis is not unique to UEA. Bristol University has received a lot of attention in the media after there were 10 student deaths in just over 18 months. A number were confirmed to be suicides. As of August this year there have been 13 student deaths at Bristol University in three years.
Ed Southgate was the Co-Editor of Bristol University’s student newspaper Epigram last year.
He told Concrete: “We’ve felt all too hard the tragic effect of poor mental health at Bristol University, but of course the problem is not isolated to just one institution. Higher Education requires a structural change, whereby the institutions these students are applying to study at no longer view them as income but as people.
“It is all well and good for students to be told that they must look after their physical and mental health in order to do well in their degree, but with that the university must ensure the environment it offers is one that enables students to look after their mental health.
“It is about creating a university community where everyone is aware of the signs of poor mental health, and where everyone knows where to turn to or can point another student in the direction of support.”
Prof David Richardson, UEA’s Vice-Chancellor says he welcomes the Concrete Mental Health Crisis Campaign.
He told Concrete: “One of UEA’s great strengths is its strong sense of community and we are all working on a whole-community approach to supporting both our students and our staff.
“Removing stigma and being able to have honest conversations about mental health is absolutely vital.
“We have increased funding for student services by more than 60% and we are already acting on all the areas highlighted by Concrete. I and colleagues have personally visited Bristol to learn directly from their experiences, with the support of the Students’ Union we are adopting a consent policy for notifying parents and carers, and our mental health taskforce is delivering an additional half a million pounds to build support services to foster exactly the kind of positive architecture that Concrete calls for.”
However, the university’s promises have been criticised by students in the past. Adam Harvey is the founder of a petition demanding the university must “directly address the mental health crisis at UEA”. To date almost 9,000 people have signed the petition. Mr Harvey wrote: “Promises have been made, but it is up to us to ensure that changes are made in the right way, and the students get the support that they need.”
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