Drowned student's brother backs call for universities to have legal mental health responsibility
PUBLISHED: 08:33 17 September 2019 | UPDATED: 12:08 17 September 2019
The brother of a Norfolk student who drowned in the UEA lake has backed an MP's call for universities to be legally responsible for students' mental health, and said an alert system "could have helped" save his life.
Nick Sadler, 25, was one of four male students at the Norwich university to have been found dead in the past ten months, in a run of tragedies campaigners have branded a mental health "crisis".
Coroners have ruled that the deaths of Jonathan Walker, 23, and Jess Fairweather, 20, were suicides, while inquests are pending into the deaths of Mr Sadler and Theo Brennan-Hulme, 21.
And now a Norfolk MP has called for academic institutions to be legally obligated to look after students' mental health, and demanded a student mental health charter to end the "unacceptable postcode lottery" of psychological support at universities in the UK.
The former Liberal Democrat health minister, Sir Norman Lamb, has gathered data on the support available to students at institutions across the country, which revealed some universities did not know or record key mental health statistics including budgets and waiting times, via Freedom of Information requests.
The UEA, which spent £569,000 on mental health services in 2017-18, was one of the universities which did not provide figures for waiting times for the 4.78pc of its students who were known to support services to access counselling, but a spokesperson said this information was recorded and monitored.
They said: "Services include a full range of wellbeing services ranging from peer support groups to cognitive behavioural therapy and to person-centred counselling.
"It's not a one -size fit all approach to wellbeing."
But Sir Norman, who recently announced his plans to stand down at the next election in order to launch a mental health fund with the Norfolk Community Foundation, and £10,000 of his own money, said the picture of varying support between academic institutions was "unacceptable", and said: "Clearly some students are being failed.
"The lack of appropriate mental health provision at some universities is intolerable."
Oliver Sadler, whose brother was missing for almost two weeks in February this year before being found, said his family supported the idea of an early alert system, and universities being obligated to inform families about students' mental health.
"Possibly if this was in place it might have helped Nick", Mr Sadler said.
"With Nick, he wasn't a stereotypical guy who held it all in.
"He reached out for help on several occasions.
"He said to his mentor he was feeling suicidal and the next day he didn't turn up for his lesson."
He added: "We weren't informed - his mentor didn't get in touch with us.
"Nick wasn't the first person to do this and unless things do change it just makes you wonder who has to kill themselves before things change.
"It's frustrating. We're very angry and sad, of course.
"But on the face of it, I'd like to think this charter could help people."
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Sir Norman's research comes as UEA students at the university's newspaper are launching a campaign calling on the institution to address what they term the campus mental health "crisis".
Chris Matthews, who is behind the Concrete Mental Health Crisis Campaign, alongside Jess Barrett, said: "We wanted to use our platform as UEA's student newspaper to open up the conversation around mental health.
"We shouldn't shy away from using the word 'crisis' - we need to face up to it.
"Student mental health is a national problem. "There have been four deaths in ten months at UEA - that is just mind-blowing."
He added: "You can't keep repeating the numbers.
"Their names are Jonathan, Jess, Nick and Theo."
The campaigners are planning to publish articles on students' experiences with their mental health in the newspaper, as well running a series of events, and holding the university accountable for improvements to support for students.
Sir Norman said he had met with the UEA Vice-Chancellor David Richardson and said he had got a "clear impression they were taking the issue very seriously".
He said: "I'm calling for this student mental health charter which would set out maximum waiting times.
"It has to be a collaboration with the NHS which is responsible as well, but the institution is the one which is receiveing the tuition fees from students.
"We know that many students across the country have taken their own lives and we know that many more are experiencing mental distress."
And the MP added: "This is one of the areas of focus for me that I've spent an awful lot of time campaigning for - proper access to mental health services for every young person.
"This is very much not students at the expense of others."
A spokesperson for the UEA said: "Our Vice-Chancellor and colleagues met Sir Norman Lamb over the summer to discuss the investments in services UEA is putting in place.
"We welcome Sir Norman's focus on this issue.
"At UEA we recognise our duty of care to both our students and our staff. We also recognise that mental health and wellbeing is a societal issue that needs a community-wide approach to make the biggest impact. That means schools, colleges, universities, and employers all working with the NHS and other public services, alongside the right level of government investment, to make a real difference.
"From August this year more than one million pounds is being invested into mental health and wellbeing services at UEA, an increase of more than 60pc on last year.
"This is being used to improve access to services, such as hiring more specially trained wellbeing staff, including a cognitive behaviour therapist and a senior wellbeing adviser with links to the NHS, as well as additional advisers specialising in mental health.
"Residential support has been boosted through the appointment of residential life managers, which enables the university to provide 24/7 support to students in UEA residences.
"UEA will also be the first university to bring the Enlitened app to all students. Developed by The Student Room Group, Enlitened brings a proactive approach to wellbeing by providing tailored advice direct to students' phones, as well as signposting towards appropriate university and third party support services."
- For help at UEA contact SSS either by calling 01603 592761 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Need support or someone to talk to? The free Samaritans helpline can be accessed by calling 116 123 from anywhere in the UK.