University bosses bowed to pressure from student media this afternoon and have released a confidential report on the state of mental health services on campus.
In a move understood to be unprecedented, vice chancellor Koen Lamberts sent a mass email to all students and staff this afternoon releasing the document.
The shocking report reveals that half of all ambulance call outs to campus so far this year have been to incidents of attempted suicide or self harm, compared with 32% last year and only 14% in 2014.
It exposes the dire state of mental health at York: 23% of people offered more than one Open Door appointment said they thought about suicide or self harm at least every other day.
The report assesses both national and local patterns of student mental ill-health as well as policies and services available.
It reveals the University aims to tackle the issue through two main strands, by taking “immediate steps to improve University support for student mental health,” and pushing for “a coordinated approach to improve mental health services for students in York and North Yorkshire.”
The document may have been published early because of pressure from campus newspapers. University registrar David Duncan told Nouse today that “a statement” on the report would be released only after it was reviewed by the executive board.
York Vision understands the report was released suddenly today after it was finalised over a month ago, at the end of March.
The report is still marked "for discussion" by the University board and "exempt" from Freedom of Information requests. York Vision had submitted a formal request to see the report last month.
One of the suggestions, which have been fully accepted by the University, is the creation of a website to provide students with access to self-help guides, information about campus services and signposting to external websites with further information, including Samaritans and the NHS.
According to the report, changes to education over the past ten years such as the increase in student debt, the difficult labour market and the “virtual environment” created by Facebook, Twitter and Yik Yak have all been linked with adverse affects to mental health among students.
The university will now take “a proactive approach to social media” to prevent online abuse.
The document says anonymous social app YikYak is a “source of virtual abuse and bullying” and some users are responsible for “cyberbullying” and “victimisation."
The report has revealed that in 2014/15, 12% of York students were Open Door users, and that 25% of all leaves of absence in 2014/15 and 2015/16 (to date) were related to mental ill-health.
The report notes the importance of the closure of Bootham Park hospital in exacerbating the problems involved in the mental health provisions for York students and in North Yorkshire in general.
The timeframe on the completion of the eleven objectives ranges from as early as June 2016 to June 2017.
Last month, a YUSU motion at the NUS national conference entitled “Tackling the Crisis of Mental Health on Campus” was passed by delegates. YUSU president Ben Leatham claimed the students' union was leading the way on mental health.
Recognizing the University’s role in the community at large, the report states that the University must be “actively leading” the “co-ordinated approach” on behalf of the 30,000 students in York.
The release of the document comes after YUSU sabbatical officer Scott Dawson told York Vision last week there was a “clear need” for more Open Door funding.
Dawson said: “Funding pressures have intensified while demands on support and health services have come under increasing pressure.”
Nouse this morning also reported claims from multiple students that Open Door was not replying to emails. One student said the service “made me worse.”
Lamberts promised quick action in the email. “I welcome the clarity of the recommendations, and I pledge my personal support for their swift implementation,” he said.
“This is a very important issue for the University, and I look forward to working with colleagues from academic and support departments as we put in place the report’s recommendations.”
The report says access for students to psychological therapies are “less well developed” in York, which has meant that services such as these are “in practice, not available for York students.”
By contrast, students in the city of Leeds have “reasonable access” to these services, and services in Durham and Darlington are provided with “substantial bespoke provision for students.”
The task group says York’s mental health services are now being run by the same trust as in Durham and Darlington. They add that they hope these provisions can be matched at York.
Leatham this evening praised the University for releasing the report. He said: "It is clear that the University is starting to take this issue seriously and is committed to working closely with us to make change."