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Turning the tide on student mental health in Greater Manchester

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Greater Manchester institutions and the NHS are opening England's first student-dedicated mental health centre.


By U2B Staff 

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Greater Manchester universities have clubbed together with the city region’s National Health Service (NHS) to launch a mental health specialist centre just for students in the area.

The centre is the first of its kind in the country and a welcome reprieve for the 500 student sufferers expected to use the £1.6 million service every year. 

It will offer expert support to students with complex mental health needs and conditions, including psychosis, depression, personality disorders and eating disorders.

It aims to meet the increasing mental health of university students and prevent them “falling between the cracks” of university and NHS services, especially at a time when they are often away from the support they may get at home.

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“Today’s students face all kinds of pressures and challenges in their lives,” University of Manchester President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell said in a pre-launch announcement.

“That is why it’s immensely important we identify and help those who may be struggling as soon as possible.”

It’s no secret that today’s student communities are under greater pressure than their predecessors to perform better academically, to land employment in an increasingly tough jobs landscape and to simply do better at life. 

The age of hypercompetition creates these elevated expectations, standards that for the academically weak or socio-economically disadvantaged, are nearly impossible to achieve. 

For these reasons and more, the number of student mental health sufferers around the world has seen an increase in recent years, creating what many refer to today as a global crisis.

In the UK, a recent poll of some 38,000 students reported “alarmingly high” levels of anxiety, loneliness, substance abuse and thoughts of self-harm, suggesting rates of psychological distress and mental illnesses are on the rise in universities here.

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President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell speaking at the launch of Greater Manchester Student Mental Health Centre. Source: University of Manchester

Universities, of course, are stepping up to the plate. Many campus leaders are answering the national call to action to turn student mental health into a strategic imperative at their respective institutions. 

In this, the Greater Manchester mental health centre leads the way. 

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“This new and unique partnership will be at the heart of that process, benefitting not only our university’s students, but also hundreds of students a year from across the entire city-region,” Rothwell said. 

The Greater Manchester area is home to over 100,000 students – the largest number of any city region in England. The sheer size of the student community here is what drove the city region’s universities to create the service.

These students will receive a standard assessment of their mental health needs at their respective university welfare service and, if appropriate, will be referred to the new mental health centre for more specialist intervention.

As their condition improves, they will continue to be managed and supported by their university welfare service once they are discharged from NHS treatment.

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A student panel discussion at the launch of the new centre. Source: University of Manchester

“This service will complement universities’ wellbeing and welfare counselling services by coordinating care with our students and allowing them to move into specialist treatment when they need it without barriers, to be discharged safely as they get better, most importantly keeping their voice at the heart of their care,” said Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership’s children and young people’s mental health lead Professor Sandeep Ranote.

“I am delighted that Greater Manchester, a city of firsts, has seen this as a priority – enabling us to open a trailblazer dedicated mental health service for our region’s students.”

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The services will be provided by the Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust from a main clinic in the heart of The University of Manchester’s Oxford Road campus and satellite locations in Salford and Bolton.

The mental health centre will be staffed with a trusty team of experts that will include a consultant psychiatrist, a consultant psychologist, psychological therapists and mental health nurses.

Group therapy services will be provided by mental health charity 42nd Street, while the Sick! Festival will provide arts-based events to involve students.

The pilot partnership involves the University of Manchester, the University of Salford, University of Bolton, Royal Northern College of Music, and the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, which comprises the local NHS organisations and councils.