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UK's first dedicated help centre for students with severe mental health issues to officially open

University of Manchester Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/PA Images

The country's first dedicated help centre for students with severe mental health issues is to officially open in Greater Manchester later.

The pilot scheme will be headed by academics and medics to help students across all of the north west's universities.

The NHS service will help university students to achieve their ambitions and receive the help they need to overcome significant mental illness.

The pilot provides expert support for students who have complex health needs – giving them timely access to professional help for conditions including psychosis, depression, personality disorders and eating disorders.

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

Around 500 students a year are expected to use the £1.6m service, which is the result of a unique partnership in England between Greater Manchester’s universities and the city region’s NHS.

An event is to be held today to mark the launch of the service, which began to accept referrals at the beginning of the autumn term.

It is provided by Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust from a main clinic in the heart of the Oxford Road campus and satellite locations in Salford and Bolton.

“I think this service is really important to stop students dropping out of university due to struggling with their mental health. This service is a really important part in saying: ‘You can do this and we’ll support you while you are here.’ ”

– Zahra, University of Manchester student

The staffing team includes a consultant psychiatrist, a consultant psychologist, psychological therapists and mental health nurses. Around 40 students have already been seen by the service since the beginning of the autumn term.

Additional group therapy is provided by mental health charity 42nd Street, while the Sick! Festival will also provide arts-based events to involve students.

The £1.6m cost of the service over 2019/20 and 2020/21 is being met by the universities and the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, with additional funding from industry sponsors.

"The transition to university life can be tough for many students, with around one in five 16-24 year olds experiencing depression or anxiety, so I’m pleased that Greater Manchester is taking a national lead when it comes to mental health provision for students."

– Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham

A 2018 review by Universities UK found a dramatic increase in the numbers of students seeking help for mental health difficulties, a trebling in the drop-out rate and evidence that only a third of students would know how to access mental health services.

Students have reported finding it difficult to access NHS mental health services away from home. This may be because they are not registered with a GP practice, they do not know where to ask for help, because the wait time for an appointment means it falls during a holiday period, or they may have moved address during or before treatment.

“We have significant evidence of the increasing demand for mental health support for our university students and we know that students can struggle to navigate the current system to access the care they need at the right time.

“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."

– Prof Sandeep Ranote, children and young people’s mental health lead at Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership

Greater Manchester is home to around 100,000 university students – the largest number of any city region in England.

The universities and the city region’s NHS agreed to create the service in order to help students to flourish and achieve their academic potential, while avoiding problems such as dropping out.

Students will receive a standard assessment from their university’s welfare service and, if appropriate, they will be referred on for more specialist intervention at the new centre.

As the mental health of a student improves, they will also be managed and supported by their university’s welfare service when the student has been discharged from NHS treatment.