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Universities outsource mental health services despite soaring demand

Amid mounting concern over student suicides, some universities have found a surprising solution to their long mental health waiting lists – they are reducing or outsourcing their counselling services in a move apparently designed to shift the burden on to the NHS.

Unable to keep up with rising demand, they are rebranding their mental health student support as “wellbeing” services. Some universities plan to maintain a reduced number of counsellors, but others are sending students to local NHS services. Professional counsellors are being told to reapply for jobs as wellbeing practitioners, or face redundancy.

There is concern over the loss of trained, experienced counsellors on campus, a move described as “perverse and dangerous” by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. “The fact that some universities are considering downgrading or reducing counselling services within their institutions is a huge cause for concern, particularly seeing as mental health needs among students are often complex,” says Andrew Reeves, BACP chair.

Ninety-five university students killed themselves in the 2016-17 academic year, and Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, last month issued an ultimatum to vice-chancellors to tackle the mental health of students. “There are some vice-chancellors who think that university is about training the mind and that they don’t have to deal with these extra things. They can’t do that … It can’t be something that belongs to the wellbeing department of the university. This requires sustained and serious leadership from the top,” he said. One of his proposals is for an opt-in system authorising universities to contact the parents or guardians of students with a mental health crisis. More

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