Universities urged to let students to go home to visit family amid fears over mental health

Camilla Turner
·3 min read
 Students have been told that their "household" is now a small group of students who they live with
Students have been told that their "household" is now a small group of students who they live with

Universities have been urged to allow students to go home and see their families amid fears that mental health services are becoming overwhelmed.

It comes as the National Union of Students (NUS) calls for “urgent action” to address student wellbeing amid a number of suicides since the start of term. 

Students have been told that their "household" is now a small group of students who they live with either in halls of accommodation or flats.

This means that in parts of the country that are in areas of "high" or "very high" alert, students are banned from visiting their families during term time since this would count as mixing indoors with another household.

But student welfare officers have voiced concern about the surge in demand for mental health services on campus, as freshers in particular struggle to settle into university life.

At Manchester University, where over 4,000 students have had to self-isolate since the start of term, officials are under pressure to allow students to go home in order to reduce pressure on wellbeing services.

“Because of the number of students that are self-isolating, the support systems are overreached, there are too many people,” a source said.

“If you can reduce the pressure, let students leave after self-isolation to reduce the pressure for those who wish to and that will lessen the number of students self-isolating."

The NUS has echoed the calls for students to be allowed to go home, saying it is “increasingly difficult” for students to meet their needs at this time.

 “As well as investment in mental health services, we also need to see more support for students self-isolating and flexibility shown by universities, including allowing students to travel to see family members provided it is safe to do so,” Sara Khan, the NUS liberation and equality officer said.

America Pardo-Gomez, a wellbeing officer at Manchester Metropolitan University said wellbeing services have been “overstretched”, adding: “A lot more students are isolated and it comes from them being freshers and not knowing people, then the added stress of Covid.”

Sophia Hartley, a welfare officer at Leeds University’s student union said there has been “huge demand” for counselling services.

Last month Scottish ministers backtracked over a ban on students returning to their family homes by setting out a series of loopholes that will allow them to visit their parents.

Students were told that while legal restrictions on visiting another home indoors remain in force, those who travelled home for “wellbeing” reasons would not be punished as this would be seen as a "reasonable excuse".

Jenny Smith, a policy manager at the mental health charity Student Minds, said that while students should follow the national rules and restrictions there must to be “a mechanism and system in place where students can go home safely if there is a risk to their mental health”.  

A Manchester Metropolitan University spokesman said that like many universities, they have experienced increased demand for our counselling, mental health and wellbeing services this term.

“We have increased our investment in these areas and extended operating hours to provide support for our students seven days a week,” they said.

 Universities UK, which represents vice-Chancellors, said they understand that this is a "tough time" for students.

"As with teaching, support services have moved online where necessary and universities are doing all they can to ensure that students can access the support they need," a spokesman said.

“Where it is necessary for students to self-isolate, universities are continuing to work hard to take care of both their physical and emotional wellbeing, providing access to testing and health care, mental health support, learning online, food deliveries, laundry, and financial support."

They added that students are encouraged to disclose any pre-existing or current mental health issues to their university.