Guest editorial

Publication Date16 March 2020
Date16 March 2020
AuthorJulian Ashton
SubjectHealth & social care,Mental health,Public mental health
Guest editorial
Julian Ashton
In terms of neurological development, the transition from adolescence to adulthood
happens throughout the years when most students are at university, and beyond. It is
also a peak period for learning,given the plasticity of the brain. Neuroscience hasshed
light on some of the cognitive processesinvolved (Blakemore, 2016). It is also the age when
people are most at risk of developing mental illness. For common mental disorders (CMD),
this applies mainly to women. CMD include generalised anxiety disorder, depression,
phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorder. In 2014, women aged 16-24
were the most likely to experience CMD, while for men, the same age group were the least
likely to experience CMD (Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2014). Of course, the
difference may be partly explained by men being less prepared to seek treatment. But this
would apply less to severe mental illness, and in the 16-24 age group, combining 2007and
2014 in the same survey,the prevalence of psychotic disorder was 2.5 times higher in women
than in men. This is the peak period for developing schizophrenia. Therefore, effective
treatment of young people withfirst episode psychosis will be an investment that will pay off
as they get older in terms of boththeir health and economics.
The psychological barriersto asking for help appear to be coming down: data available from
a Freedom of Information Request show a large increase in students seeking mental health
support between 2013-2014 and 2017-2018. Out of over 100 higher education institutions
that were approached, 16 gave comparable figures, representing a wide range of
universities. In 2013-2014, the mean was 865 (SD 465) students seeking mental health
support. In 2017-2018,the figure was 1,332 (SD 650), an increase of 53 per cent.(The size of
the standard deviation reflects the range of university size). Over the same time interval,
based on 12 institutions giving comparablefigures, their counselling services increased the
number FTE (full-timeequivalent) counsellors from a mean 4.3(SD 2.27) to 5.3 (SD 2.82), a 23
per cent increase. It seems that as a result, students may receive shorter courses of
counselling (there are few figures available).However, the waiting time for a first counselling
session is very good at most universities, compared to the NHS: in 2016 the average was
16 days for university counselling services and 84 days in the NHS (Brown,2016).
A wider range of therapy has become available. There has been a rise in mental health
practitioners. Three universities in the Freedom of Information survey had a (part-time)
psychiatristavailable for students. Although, I have beeninformed by one such institution that
the psychiatristis not there to give treatment but to work with other therapists.Other initiatives
include, for example, the University of East Anglia (UEA) offering physical activity as an
adjunct to mental health support (UEA, 2018). UEA also has a buddy scheme, where first-
year students can opt to be paired with a student who can offer guidance (UEA Students
Union, 2019). Oxford has a Peer SupportProgramme. Both involve extensive training for the
students givingthe support.
While the provision of these services means that students have much shorter waiting times
than in the NationalHealth Service (NHS), if the university mentalhealth service needs to refer
a student for psychiatriccare, the student generally finds they are in the same positionas the
general population, with some exceptions. Waiting times vary widely around the UK. One
question on the Student Minds survey was to ask practitioners in university counselling
services the top area of concern; it was inadequate NHS mental health provision (Student
Minds, 2014).
Julian Ashton is based at
NIHR Research Design
Service (SW), Paignton,
DOI 10.1108/JPMH-03-2020-102 VOL. 19 NO. 1 2020, pp. 5-7, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-5729 jJOURNAL OF PUBLIC MENTAL HEALTH jPAGE 5

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