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Students urge ministers to take measures to help improve mental health and wellbeing

The Ulster University Students' Union has produced a mental health action plan

STUDENTS are urging the executive to take measures to help improve mental health and wellbeing.

The Ulster University Students' Union (UUSU) has produced an action plan, which demands better outcomes.

The last decade has seen increasing rate of drop-outs, more demand on wellbeing services and higher rates of unhappiness in universities and colleges.

Despite this, it has been claimed that students are being "left behind" in government publications about mental health.

Those behind the new campaign said while publications include mentions of student mental health, they had not engaged actively with students about the support they need.

The action plan comprises of eight key asks.

These include a rollout of accessible services, better funding and an increase in overall inclusion of the student movement in mental health discussions and planning.

"Over the last few years we have witnessed how mental health has impacted on our society, particularly the student population," said UUSU President Collette Cassidy.

"We are in the middle of a mental health crisis with Covid-19 exacerbating it. We have faced no bigger test on our mental health than we have this year."

The action plan, she said, was supported by NUS-USI and other students' unions across Northern Ireland.

"Together, we have created a live document, that should be used to inform the Mental Health Strategy for NI in order to ensure that our politicians are working on the matters that mean most to students and their mental health.

"This means that as the years go by, and the climate changes, other students' union officers can change the document, to remove or add sections that best suit the provision that is needed."

The document asks for greater investment in educating young people and students around positive mental health and resilience - in schools, colleges and universities.

It also says the Public Health Agency should be lobbied to create campaigns directed specifically towards young people.

In addition, it calls for robust medical workforce planning for mental health nurses and psychology posts and to encourage greater numbers to choose a career path in a mental health related field.

Professor Siobhan O'Neill, Interim Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland, said the transition to college or university should be an exciting time, a time of opportunity.

"However, too many students find it overwhelmingly stressful and the new environment can bring pressure that has a mental health impact," she said.

"It is vital that we nurture our students and support them to flourish, and this means raising awareness, having the right services and structures to promote wellbeing and treatments to help those who are struggling.

"I very much welcome the Student Mental Health Action Plan. It is a vision and plan for awareness, prevention and excellent support services. Its implementation would undoubtedly lead to an improvement in student wellbeing, which will translate into a stronger more confident graduate population, who will be best placed to make Northern Ireland a better, brighter place."

NUS-USI President Ellen Fearon said the student mental health crisis across higher and further education had been left on the back burner by government and students had suffered.

"During this pandemic, we've seen students face more financial and academic pressure than ever before and there's been an increase in demand for student wellbeing services," she said.

"We need urgent and effective action from government with long term impacts. UUSU's Student Mental Health Action Plan has the potential to implement real, comprehensive, and national change that shapes how we view and treat student mental health in our society. I urge students and political representatives from across NI to engage with this campaign and support our students."

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