Thousands of students battling to cope with pandemic to be given £50m in financial support | UK | News (Reports)

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The aid comes as the Daily Express Fair Deal for Students crusade lays bare Covid’s worrying mental toll on the nation’s higher education population. Experts have warned some students have been driven to the brink of suicide as they struggle with living expenses, accommodation and online learning. Universities will distribute the funds to hard-hit students to help pay for alternative accommodation and access teaching, as well as supporting those who have lost jobs.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said: “This continues to be an incredibly difficult and challenging time for our students.

“I am hugely grateful to all the university staff working hard to prioritise their health, wellbeing and learning during this pandemic.

“This additional support will provide real, tangible help for those students struggling financially as a result.”

The £50million is in addition to £20million help announced in December. It follows warnings that students are among the adults most seriously affected by the pandemic.

Their mental health was deteriorating before the pandemic but charity bosses fear the disruption to learning caused by the virus will worsen the issue.

Second-year graphic design student Dan Robinson, 23, described feeling “exhausted and drained” from online classes and a lack of social interaction.

Dan, from Kingston University, said: “I went from having probably a breakdown every month or so [before the pandemic] to having weekly stress breakdown.

Sara Khan

Sara Khan is calling on the Government to increase the funding of the NHS mental health services (Image: NC)

“I’m like, ‘How am I going to keep up with this? How am I going to keep the level of professionalism that’s expected while also working from my bedroom?’.”

Alistair Jarvis, of Universities UK, said: “While the additional funding is welcome, the Government must acknowledge that hardship is one of many increasingly difficult issues facing students, universities and staff at this time.

“As the serious mental health impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, universities need further funding to alleviate the substantial increases in demand that university wellbeing and support services are experiencing.”

A record number of university-age students killed themselves in 2019 and the number with mental illnesses who dropped out of courses has reached an all-time high.

Some 182 full-time students in England and Wales aged 18 and above committed suicide in 2019 – an increase of 88 percent in six years, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures said.

The figures cover all adult students, the majority believed to be attending university. But some may have been enrolled at further education colleges, on apprenticeship courses or other institutions. 

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Students

The Fair Deal for Students crusade lays bare Covid’s mental toll on the higher education population (Image: Getty )

It is feared the extra strain on the students of 2020 could lead to a rise in suicides when figures are released later this year.

Sara Khan of the National Union of Students (NUS) said: “We know that expressing hopelessness about the future, displaying overwhelming emotional distress and withdrawal from social connections, are warning signs that a student may be at risk for suicide.

“We also know that the best way to prevent suicide is through early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

“Students deserve better than this. We call on the Government to immediately increase the funding of NHS mental health services and the funding of mental health charities working with BAME, disabled and LGBT people.”

An NUS survey found more than half the UK’s students said their mental health had deteriorated or was affected negatively by Covid-19.

Even before the pandemic, however, a record number with mental health conditions dropped out of university, according to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Students

It is feared the strain on students of 2020 could lead to a rise in suicides (Image: Getty )

In the 2017/18 more than 3,000 with mental health issues quit their course, compared with 1,455 just four years earlier.

It is believed that figure will skyrocket for this academic year as students battle with the transition to online learning caused by the pandemic.

Catherine Seymour, of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Our research suggests that students are among the groups of adults who have been most seriously affected by the pandemic.

“For instance, students seem to be coping less well with the stress of the pandemic. They are also more worried about the future for people their age, compared with UK adults generally.”

She added: “A big part of what students need is financial and physical security. They need to know they’re not going to run out of food or money for heating or get evicted from where they’re living.

“These things make a huge difference to people’s mental health.

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“Students should also be able to get professional support for their mental health if they need it.” 

ENGINEERING student Ben Brown committed suicide after feeling overwhelmed by the lockdown last spring.

The Loughborough University student, 22, had tried to keep “busy all the time” so he was not “alone with his thoughts”.

Ben, who wanted to join the British Army, was in his final year at university and was a member of Typhoon Squadron on the Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme.

His squadron had been planning a summer-long exercise through Europe to Istanbul. The trip was cancelled because of Covid. Ben, from Gloucester, killed himself in April after writing a letter about his mental health to his mother Helen Hartery-Brown.

The night before his death, Helen, 54, said that Ben, who was living with friends in Leicestershire, had concealed his anguish.

She said: “We video-called him at 6pm the night before he took his life.

Ben Brown

Ben Brown committed suicide after feeling overwhelmed by the lockdown last spring (Image: BPM media)

“Ben was very close to his mum. My last words to him were, ‘I love you millions.’ His last words to me were, ‘I love you too mum’.

“The lockdown had a massive impact on him. Ben had not spoken to anyone about how he was feeling.

“He found it all too overwhelming.

“He was always so busy and packed a lot into his short life. Ben was an intelligent and loving man who left a lasting impression with many people.”

Born in Gloucester, Ben and his family moved away for a spell before returning back to the city when he was in year six at primary school.

Ben attended Welbeck College in Leicestershire, where he completed A-levels across the sciences before starting university in 2016.

Dan Chevalier feels “alone and isolated” thanks to the pandemic and wants the Government to put students’ mental health first.

The politics undergraduate at Winchester University in Hampshire said many students had been left by themselves in small rooms since in-person learning halted.

The 21-year-old misses contact with fellow students.

He said: “I’ve been affected quite a lot in that I’m a social person. Usually, I’d be on campus most days, going to lectures with friends and going to cafes or the city. There’s the nightlife aspect as well.”

Dan suggested universities bring in grading policies to help students’ mental health.

A “no detriment” policy would act as a safety net to ensure students obtain at least their average grade so far.

He said: “Institutions, the minister for universities and the Government need to re-shift their focus heavily on more compassionate and more mental health-focused and driven leadership. They’ll get a lot further in their ability to help students and to stop them being so frustrated.

“[Students] won’t feel like they’re being ignored or like a statistic, or just there to fund universities.

“They’ll feel more at ease with decisions if they know they’re coming from a more mental health and mental wellbeing perspective.”

Graphic design student Dan Robinson suffers a breakdown from stress once a week since learning shifted online.

He has battled loneliness and feelings of isolation since moving home in March when the pandemic hit.

The 23-year-old, in his second year at London’s Kingston University, said: “It’s super stressful.

“I struggled with university anyway but being at home makes it 100 times worse because you don’t have your support unit of friends around.

“I don’t know how I’m going to last until summer because I’m exhausted now and we’re two weeks into this term.

Dan Robinson

Dan Robinson has suffered breakdowns from stress once a week since learning shifted online (Image: NC)

“I went from having probably a breakdown every month or so to having weekly stress breakdowns where I’m like, ‘How am I going to keep the level of professionalism that’s expected while also working from my bedroom?’

“It’s not what I signed up to do. I didn’t sign up to do online courses. If I did I’d have gone to The Open University.” Dan, from Cark, Cumbria, said the lack of access to libraries, studios and campus resources made studying hard.

He added: “We can’t do the work that we’re expected to do a lot of the time. It’s just not right.

“We signed a contract that said we were going to be getting a professional level of learning and we’re just not. It doesn’t feel like it anyway.”

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