Organisational responses to students' mental health needs : social, psychological and medical perspectives
This research examines the support offered to students with mental and emotional problems in Oxford, based on a theoretical model which distinguishes between social, psychological and medical/biological approaches. Although there has been a long-running debate about the contribution of each of these approaches, their impact on the provision of formal and informal support for students has not been previously studied. Using a case study research design, 76 semi-structured interviews were conducted with 'students and staff within three educational institutions and two healthcare trusts, with additional information coming from meetings of the Oxford Student Mental Health Network and other documentary evidence. The case studies found that concerns about stigma, confidentiality, damaged career prospects and beliefs about the nature of the support provided all impacted on students' willingness to seek help. Sources of social support included friends, family, student officers, academic, residential and administrative staff. Psychological support came from university counsellors and National Health Service psychotherapists. General Practitioners provided the first line of medical support, with psychiatrists and other mental health professionals becoming involved with the more severe cases. There were gaps between the different levels of support, concerns about the difficulty in accessing secondary and tertiary levels of care, and sometimes mutual suspicion between different types of supporters. The distinctions between social, psychological and medical approaches to mental health which tend to be polarised in the literature, were not articulated so forcefully by the majority of the respondents. Integrating different forms of support was seen as providing students with the best chance of completing their studies successfully, but raises challenges of working across organisational and professional boundaries. Whilst there were established pathways for referring students into psychological and medical services at times of crisis, there were not such well organised pathways back in to the social levels of support upon recovery.