Unique specialist mental health service for students begins work in Greater Manchester

Categories: University Campus

A unique new specialist NHS service in Greater Manchester will help university students to achieve their ambitions and receive the help they need to overcome significant mental illness, an event will be told today (18 November).

The Greater Manchester university student mental health service 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.

Students will join the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, university leaders and the team of mental health professionals who provide the service for the event at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester’s Oxford Road university corridor.

The Greater Manchester university student mental health service pilot is a partnership between:

  • The University of Manchester
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • University of Salford
  • University of Bolton
  • Royal Northern College of Music
  • Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership

The service 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. 

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.

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.

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.

University of Manchester student Zahra, who was among dozens of students to give their views about what the new service should provide, is to appear at the event in a short film. 

She says in the film: “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."

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “Greater Manchester is using devolution to rethink and re-prioritise mental health support for young people.

“We recently became the first place to publish waiting time information for children and young people’s mental health, and introduced independent counselling into schools with our ground-breaking mental health support programme. We are now becoming the first place to introduce a new way of supporting university students. 

“Our unique devolution deal gives us the ability to rethink the way we help young people navigate an increasingly complex world. 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.

“With one of the largest university populations in the country here in Greater Manchester, we have a collective duty to ensure that compassionate, responsive mental health services are available to all who need them, whenever they need them. When things are tough, we want everyone who lives, works, and studies in Greater Manchester to have access to the best possible support and guidance. This kind of service has the potential to make a real difference for our students, and I hope it can become a model for other places to follow.”

Professor Sandeep Ranote, children and young people’s mental health lead at Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “Moving to university can be a really challenging time for people and for many, the first time living independently while managing the pressures of exams, studying and developing new relationships. We have a diverse student population and a growing international student population that we must also recognise. 

“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. 

“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.”

Neil Thwaite, chief executive of Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust, said: “Some students will need extra mental health support while they settle into independent living and their studies.

“Our dedicated team of professionals will be on hand to provide care and treatment to students who are referred by the universities’ wellbeing services and to students with pre-existing conditions.

“As a trust, we are proud to offer this bespoke mental health service to the university community of Greater Manchester.”

President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell said: “The mental health and wellbeing of our students is and always will be a top priority for us. 

“Today’s students face all kinds of pressures and challenges in their lives. That is why it’s immensely important we identify and help those who may be struggling as soon as possible. 

“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.

“I am extremely pleased our university is playing a key role in the partnership. I hope the model becomes a beacon for the sector so it can be adopted and used to help students across the nation.” 

Professor Malcolm Press, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “The health and wellbeing of our students is of the utmost importance. We want to ensure that students are supported to achieve their full potential while at university and are prepared for life after graduation. The centre will help to address the growing challenge of mental health and wellbeing among young people.

“The new partnership is a novel approach and delivered through collaborative working across local universities and the NHS. By utilising the knowledge within our wellbeing services and the connection with the regional NHS providers, it will deliver the best possible outcomes for students across Greater Manchester.”

Professor Helen Marshall, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Salford, said: “We know that poor mental health and wellbeing can be a huge barrier to success, and we need to help break down that barrier for our students. With the launch of this innovative, sector-leading partnership, there is potential to change lives; providing more effective diagnosis and treatment at an early stage and helping all our students gain the skills to manage their own mental health so they are enabled and empowered to succeed.”

Dr Kondal Reddy Kandadi, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Bolton, said: “The health and wellbeing of our students is our number one priority and this pioneering new service is another example of how we are striving to provide the best and most appropriate mental health support for them.”

Professor Linda Merrick, Principal of Royal Northern College of Music, said: “Training to be a professional musician takes dedication, commitment and sheer hard work. This, together with the day-to-day challenges associated with student life, means it is more important than ever that we provide the right support when it is most needed. We are extremely proud to be part of this exciting new partnership which we believe will have a positive impact on the mental health of our students.”

For all press office enquiries please email communications@salford.ac.uk or phone 0161 295 2238.