Today UMHAN Mental Health Adviser members from across the country discussed the successes and challenges of building relationships with external services.
Many come with extensive experience of working in crisis teams, secondary care or IAPT, and understand their processes and systems - so why isn't this easier?
The main issue is identifying the appropriate contacts, and having ample time to focus on this. Because of the high turnover of staff in some areas of statutory services, it can be challenging to ensure that any established contact continues as this is often due to a particular individual, rather than a named role responsibility. Additionally, it can be hard to prioritise this kind of development activity if you are a practitioner with direct contact with students (or clients/patients).
Some initiatives have needed specific project funding and resources to develop the required partnerships (1), however we have concerns about how sustainable these developments are if key staff leave their posts.
Online meeting platforms have been an enabler to a newly formed group at the University of Nottingham. It's become an easy way to share service updates, including waiting times and operational changes.
Other members reported that using common assessment measures can also be useful in communicating students' mental health needs to external services.
The majority of members highly value the support provided by charities and other 3rd party providers as part of the local offer, noting that they are often filling gaps in support previously offered by the NHS/Social Services.
Members report continuing issues with long waiting lists for Autism/ADHD assessments, exacerbating mental health difficulties for specific students. NHS data shows that there are over 12000 people waiting in the autism diagnosis referral system for a first appointment. The same data is not available for ADHD, however a BBC report from July 2020 stated there were around 21000 people waiting.
Trauma is another area where specialised support is thin on the ground, with one member describing a waiting list of 3 years.
Our hope as a charity is that developing relationships is given more focus in the short term, for the ultimate benefit of better mental health support for all students. For those organisations working on the University Mental Health Charter, we hope that this impetus provides the opportunity to create sustainable relationships. We advocate for frontline practitioners to be given protected time to work on new and ongoing projects, with the knowledge that their insight and experience is vital to success.