University of Glasgow takes action against rising levels of mental health issues

Glasgow University Quad

Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Mike Peel

Rachael Bunyan
Reporter

The University of Glasgow launched a Mental Health Action Plan in October in response to the escalating mental health services crisis at the University.

In response to rising levels of mental health issues among staff and students, the Mental Health Action Plan is designed to provide support to all staff and students as well as ensuring a more coherent and coordinated approach to mental health across the University.

Dr David Duncan, the newly appointed Mental Health Champion at the University, has conducted a comprehensive review of the University’s current strategies towards mental health issues. The result was a new action plan that would adapt the University’s “systems and processes and forms of support to meet what is seen as a growing need” for a more coherent support system, said Duncan.

The Action Plan outlines a range of short-term as well as medium to long-term initiatives such as the creation of a Working Group as well as widening the support network available to staff and students.

Commenting on these initiatives, Duncan noted that the Working Group is a “broad coalition” of professional experts and student representatives who have the power to “hold us as an institution to account”.

In terms of the support network, the aim of the Action Plan is to train up a wide array of staff and students to “act as the first points of contact for people that might be suffering from stress, from mental ill-health or distress of some form,” stated Duncan. This will involve training staff and students as part of a peer network to become mental health first aiders and trained in suicide prevention activities.

Increased levels of funding have been allocated to “deal with the sharp-end, if you like of mental ill-health” including the support system available to staff and students, noted Duncan.

This extra funding has led to improvements to the on-site counselling service for students whereby those “who are really in distress, who really need immediate assistance will see people almost immediately within a day. Whereas for others there will be a little bit of waiting time.

“We have also introduced a new professional support service for staff which involves both telephonic talk therapies but also the possibility of face-to-face sessions if they need it in the city,” commented Duncan.

In terms of raising awareness of the issue of mental health, Duncan said: “Even just publishing this action plan has meant that people have been coming up to us, staff and students, sometimes those who have suffered from mental [ill] health, sometimes people who want to help, sometimes both, and then we were getting lots of others from professionals on campus”.

While the Action Plan is progress, Duncan does acknowledge that “it’s easy to publish an action plan, but it’s much harder to actually do things. The hard part is still to come”.

For Duncan, a challenge for the success of the Action Plan is addressing the issue of the “link between what GPs in Glasgow offer and what the University offers not being as joined up [as it should be]”.

In order to rectify this, the University has “already started that discussion with Greater Glasgow Health Board and will carry forward discussion with local GP practices to make sure there is better articulation”, explained Duncan.

Commenting on the Action Plan, Duncan told The Glasgow Guardian that addressing mental health is “what good universities do… This is a good university and we have certain responsibilities and duties and this is just a case of doing that”.

“The University takes mental health issues seriously, I would say to people with mental health issues that they are not alone, and that if they feel that they need help then they should reach out whether through the NHS or through contacts on campus because we don’t want people to suffer in isolation”, continued Duncan.

The University will also be hosting a “series of lectures by well-known people that have suffered from mental ill-health,” said Duncan, in order to raise greater awareness of mental health issues. Following a lecture by Alistair Campbell, the second lecture will be given by comedienne Susan Calman, who will discuss her own experiences of depression that led to an attempted suicide during her teenage years.

For more information about upcoming events such as the mental health lecture series, The Glasgow Guardian and the University of Glasgow websites will post updates.