Statement on mental health at UWE Bristol

Issue date: 23 November 2018

UWE Bristol logo

We wholly dispute the misleading and inaccurate Bristol Post article published today (23 November 2018) regarding the University's mental health and wellbeing services.

The article suggests we are a University that is not investing sufficiently in mental health support for its students, does not care about its students, and has withheld information about the number of suicides among its students. This is not true.

The article contains factual inaccuracies about our willingness to release information about student deaths and about our spending on mental health support services and wellbeing practitioners. We would like to take the opportunity to address these below.

UWE Bristol has been accused of withholding information over student suicides – is this true?

No. We are open and transparent as a university.

Between January 2010 and July 2018 we had 14 confirmed suicides in our student community. This number came from an independent and confidential student death by suicide audit undertaken by Public Health England (PHE) in August this year and this was reported by BBC Points West on 26 September 2018.

This audit analysed the detail of health records, university records and the formal record of the coroner's investigation and verdict.

To give further background on the audit, in June 2018 UWE Bristol was approached by PHE who were undertaking a piece of work for the University of Bristol reviewing the cases of suicides in university students from 2010 until the present day with the use of an audit tool. We agreed to take part in the research and the audit from PHE.

The tool has been developed with guidance from national experts in the field and then shaped for use in Bristol under the supervision of academics at the University of Bristol and Public Health England. The tool was then used to identify any common factors between the cases, identify any new risk factors and lessons learnt for policy and practice. The results have then been used in the development of a suicide prevention planning framework.

In addition, the PHE research team will be compiling a summary of high level key findings across the two institutions that could be used for wider publication.

Why did you not disclose the information regarding the number of student suicides when you received a Freedom of Information (FOI) request about this?

FOI requests ask for very specific information and therefore rarely show the full picture or put information into the necessary context.

Our student record system records a student death but not the cause. As a university we do not generally hold details of confirmed suicides as the information is held by the coroner.

The FOI request that the Bristol Post are referring to was made on 11 July 2018 and the deadline for us to respond was 8 August 2018, which is the date we did respond by. The date of the PHE audit was August 2018.

At the time the FOI was requested, we did not have that information or the audit. Had we received the FOI request after we had the findings from the audit, we would have released this information at that time – and we have in fact released this information in subsequent FOI requests.

Why haven't you made the Public Health England audit public?

Given the subject of the audit, we are very disappointed it has been leaked to the Bristol Post as its contents are highly sensitive and we have been mindful of the distress this may cause the families and friends of the students. The audit was presented as a confidential paper at our Academic Board on 10 October 2018 and since then we have been discussing the findings and establishing how they will inform our future work.

How do you feel about the figure of 14 suicides in the past eight years?

Whenever a student takes their own life it is extremely distressing for our staff and students. It goes without saying that we think any number of student suicides is too high, which is why we have a long-term commitment to addressing mental health with our students.

Is UWE Bristol's financial investment in mental health services decreasing?

No, and the figure reported by the Bristol Post doesn't tell the full story. In addition to our existing full range of student support services and the £1.09 million spend on our Wellbeing Service in 2017/18 that was reported by the Bristol Post, we also invested a further £3.5million on supporting our students' mental health and wellbeing. This included:

  • The development of a 24/7 Student Centre (due to open December 2018)
  • A new learner analytics software that enables staff to support students' progress, mental health and wellbeing
  • Kooth Student, an online and anonymous counselling and advice service for out of hours support (UWE Bristol was the first university in the country to introduce this)
  • Year-round mental health awareness-raising campaigns, information and events aimed at students and their parents/carers
  • Individual designated Academic Personal Tutors
  • The development of student health guides
  • Embedding emotional resilience training into our courses
  • The creation of an enhanced induction programme for new students and their parents/carers, which signposts where and how to get support
  • Two more full-time practitioners and one drugs worker, bringing the total number of FTE practitioners in the Wellbeing Service to 45
  • A dedicated Resilience Officer.

Why do you not announce when a sudden death of one of your students has occurred?

In the event of a sudden death of a student, our first priority is to ensure that we are providing support to their families, fellow students and staff. We then have a duty to work with the Coroner and police services to follow the inquest process.

It would be highly inappropriate to proactively publicise any student death to the media before their next of kin have been informed and before the circumstances of such a tragic event have been established and friends and family have been consulted. We will not be changing our policy on this.

Why isn't UWE Bristol doing more to address mental health issues in young people?

At UWE Bristol the welfare of students and staff is our highest priority, and we are one of the first universities in the country to have a strategy that puts mental health and wellbeing at the heart of everything we do. We are leading national discussions about mental health and wellbeing at university through our role in piloting University UK's Step Change Framework alongside universities in Cardiff and York, and our Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve West is chair of the Universities UK mental health in higher education working group. We have been acknowledged nationally as sector-leaders in the way we are responding to mental health issues.

We know the issues faced by our student community cannot be solved by us alone and we are committed to working together with our students, the NHS, parents and carers, schools, local authorities, emergency services and other HE institutions.

We have invested heavily in our Wellbeing Service and will continue to do so, and we are working hard to ensure our students know how and when to access support. But we also have a duty, as an institution, to try to identify and remove the issues that can cause mental health issues and equip our students with the skills to address and overcome them.

The issues that UWE faces are ones all universities and society in general are experiencing. UWE Bristol is standing up publicly to ask that everyone plays their part, from government and MPs who set the pre-16 educational experience and fund the NHS, to universities in terms of their teaching and assessment, to the press who have a responsibility to be factual, sensitive and try to reflect the complexity of mental health issues. We can only move forward by working together.

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