Students will still need a GP referral in order to see one of the Senior Mental Health Practitioners, but the specialists also plan to share their expert knowledge more broadly with students and staff; including plans for a number of talks.

New support for students sees NHS Senior Mental Health Practitioners based on University of Exeter campus

Three NHS Senior Mental Health Practitioners are now based on the University of Exeter’s Streatham campus, in order to provide direct support to students.

The pioneering new initiative is understood to be one of the first of its kind at a UK university. It sees Senior Mental Health Practitioners from Devon Partnership NHS Trust working with students with complex needs and who may have episodes of crisis, at the Wellbeing Centre on campus.

Students who have needed this level of support have always been able to access it through GPs but the appointments have taken place across the city. This new service allows students to meet with the specialists within the familiar environment of campus. The Practitioners will also travel to the St Luke’s campus for appointments there.

The initiative enables the University’s wellbeing team, the Senior Mental Health Practitioners and GPs from the Student Health Centre – which is right next door - to easily sit down together to discuss appropriate care and treatment.

“We already work very closely with our partners in the NHS and that includes looking for new ways to better support our students; particularly those with more acute needs,” said Ian Blenkharn, Director of Education and Student Experience at the University of Exeter.

“This initiative will allow students to attend appointments within familiar surroundings and help us ensure a more holistic approach to their care. It will be running initially for two years so that we can measure its impact, to ensure it’s best serving their needs. We’re also consulting and working closely with our NHS partners in Cornwall to review how similar outcomes can be achieved for students studying there.

“The welfare of our students is our highest priority and we are also undertaking a major review of our wellbeing service this year. We work with other universities across the sector to do what we can to tackle the critical issues surrounding mental health.”

John Lilley, Community Service Manager for Devon Partnership NHS Trust said: "Alongside the University of Exeter, we recognise that the stresses on students at university are significant, for example living away from home for the first time, financial pressures, academic pressure and the fear of failure. These stresses can sometimes manifest themselves as acute and serious mental health problems.

“This exciting new service is a collaboration of funding and support from Devon County Council, Devon Partnership NHS Trust and the University of Exeter. It will be the first of its kind to place a dedicated, specialist NHS community mental health team on campus to address the mental health concerns of students. The team has three senior mental health nurses, supported by a part-time consultant psychiatrist and psychologist. Our hope is that the team will keep students safe at times of mental health crisis, be responsive to their needs and help them stay engaged with their studies - so that their mental health issues don’t undermine their academic aspirations."

Rose Ahier, Vice-President Welfare & Diversity at the Students’ Guild said: “We are excited about the collaboration between the University’s Wellbeing Services and NHS Mental Health team as part of a larger holistic approach to student wellbeing being implemented by the University. Mental health is becoming a key priority for the University of Exeter, and this partnership will enable students with more complex needs to access long-term care at the centre of campus.”

Dr Jo Neumegen, Student Health Centre Principal Medical Officer University of Exeter said:

“The GPs and staff at the Student Health Centre have always worked closely alongside University wellbeing services to support students with mental health conditions.

“This new NHS team based on campus will complement those existing services by providing dedicated specialist support and treatment programmes for students with more complex mental health diagnoses and risk presentations who have previously struggled to access services that fit around university life and we see this as a very positive step.”

Students will still need a GP referral in order to see one of the Senior Mental Health Practitioners, but the specialists also plan to share their expert knowledge more broadly with students and staff; including plans for a number of talks.

A 2018 report produced by Universities UK showed a rise in the number of students at UK universities disclosing a mental health condition to their higher education institution – from 9,675 in 2007/8 to 57,305 a decade later in 2017/18 (both postgraduates and undergraduates).**

Thursday 7 February 2019 is national Time to Talk day encouraging conversations about mental health and promoting support for the 1 in 4 people who suffer from mental health problems each year.

**Minding our future: starting a conversation about the support of student mental health, Universities UK, May 2018

Date: 6 February 2019

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