Comment Writer Madeline McInnis discusses the UK Government’s proposed introduction of a ‘Mental Health Certificate’ across universities

Written by mmcinnis
Images by Wokandapix

Mental health services for university students are dire. That’s a fact, not an opinion. From the highly publicised mental health crisis at the University of Bristol to the family of a University of Birmingham student, who ended his life in August, blaming the university for his death – students are literally dying because of their mental health. At the end of June, the government announced that it is implementing a certificate of excellence for universities that meet a new standard of mental health care. The government is also encouraging an opt-in system where universities can contact families on behalf of students in emergency mental-health situations.

This comes after a report that 95 students took their lives in the 2016-2017 academic year. According to the BBC, that’s 4.7 suicide-related deaths per 100,000 students. In a country that prides itself on having elite education and welcomes students from all over the world, this should be incredibly alarming.

I have hope that this new certificate of excellence programme will help the students who need it in the United Kingdom. At least from a business perspective, no university wants to be known for not caring about its students. If even for the reason of advertising,

I’m confident that universities will start to pull up their socks and meet these government expectations.

That said, as far as I’ve seen, no university has quite figured out how to handle these issues yet. There’s no cookie-cutter mould or play-by-play guide of how to properly care for student mental health – which is even more complicated by the fact that no two mental illnesses are exactly the same.

Let’s face it, university is incredibly stressful. We have the expectations of the rest of our lives resting on an essay at the end of ten weeks of lectures. It’s a breeding ground for mental health issues, and that is not anybody’s fault — institution or student.

But we need to find ways to make it easier on everyone. The stress is always going to be there, but we need more resources to help deal with how it presents itself in some students and the ways it affects them. We need more resources to help us to look beyond just deadlines, and into the core of what we’re all here to train: our brains.

And I’m not just speaking to the United Kingdom here — this is an issue in all universities. Take my home country of Canada, for instance. Canada has the most educated population of any country in the world with 56.27 per cent of the population holding at least some post-secondary education. The country is also crying just as desperately for mental health resources.

Real world example? The University of Waterloo is one of the highest-regarded institutions in the country, and one of the University of Birmingham’s exchange partners. It was recently subject to a student walk-out over mental health resources after the tenth confirmed student suicide at the institution since 2012.

By implementing this certificate of excellence back in the United Kingdom, universities will hopefully be forced to break the status quo in dealing with this epidemic, and come up with creative solutions that have not been tried before.

In trying new approaches, British students may become the guinea pigs in this new experiment whilst the rest of the world watch, but I think I’d prefer to be a test subject to the continuation of a system that obviously is not working. 

I think I’d prefer to be a test subject to the continuation of a system that obviously is not working.

 This is an opportunity for universities to really make a difference at a global level, simply for the effort of getting yet another distinction to sell to future students.

Most importantly, we have to start actually listening to the requests of the people who need the support. The simple solution is throwing more money into counselling services — which is completely necessary, don’t get me wrong — but that isn’t going to work for everyone. We need more reasonable accommodations for students and we need to listen to what they are requesting.

Our students are screaming for help, and this certificate should hopefully provide the necessary opportunities for all levels to hear our voices and make the change that we so desperately need.