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The importance of funding to sustain mental health services

Jon Vincent

by Jon Vincent, Principal and Chief Executive

Recent reports have highlighted that the pandemic has had alarming consequences for the mental health of students and staff in the college sector - with poor mental health amongst students in particular said to be approaching epidemic proportions.

The isolating effects of lockdown, the long-term physical and mental side effects of covid, and now the cost-of-living crisis have meant that students, too many of whom were already identified as being vulnerable to mental health issues are now struggling more than ever.

I see this every day at my own college.  Some of the students I talk to are persevering with their studies through grief, their own health challenges, caring responsibilities, and the financial juggle to make ends meet.

Thankfully the Scottish Government made a large investment into the college sector during the pandemic, providing enhanced mental health provision for members of staff and students - an invaluable resource for those struggling to complete their studies whilst working through such a tumultuous time.

Unfortunately,  some of the funds that allowed colleges to have such beneficial mental health support systems in place are not available for the next academic year and the Scottish Government’s long-term investment in counsellors will end in 2023 .With the end of this investment looming and the sector already facing severe financial challenges, we have not been given reassurance as to how this increased (and highly valued by students) capacity of counselling services will be sustained.

At Glasgow Clyde College, we pride ourselves on being exceptionally people-centered, putting the needs of our students and members of staff at the forefront of all decision-making. We are continuously developing resources that will help learners to cope better and help build their resilience to manage the challenges of everyday life. This support is part of the reason why so many of our students are able to complete their studies and go on to join the workforce or journey into higher education.

We currently have seven BACP qualified counsellors employed by the college and two trainee counsellors providing counselling across all three college campuses. Between these individuals, and our “Time To Talk” team - an extremely popular service run by counsellors and mental health first aiders, which includes a helpline - we can offer flexible, personalised support for everyone on and off campus. We also offer a “Listening Service” for students enrolled in our Supported Education department.

The Scottish Government Programme of Government 2021-22 ‘A fairer, greener Scotland’ makes a series of bold commitments regarding improvements to health and social care services including provision of mental health services. In the programme it commits to safeguarding students' mental health and wellbeing through developing a ‘Student Mental Health Plan’.

So far, very little evidence of the promised plan or clarification of how the mental health services in the college sector will be sustained have been released. However, discussions with stakeholders on its development are promised soon and we are hopeful that this will deliver the necessary resources to support these critical services.

The more support we can give students, the more we are helping them to achieve their potential, improve their opportunities, and ultimately, change their lives. Our students deserve this investment and we will continue to do our utmost to ensure that it is received.