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A coroner has called for universities to destigmatise mental health issues after concluding that a student took his own life after facing dismissal from his course and the prospect of losing his accommodation.

First-year Bristol University student Ben Murray, 19, fell from a bridge after receiving a note telling him he was going to be dismissed for missing lectures and an exam.

The senior coroner Maria Voisin said that more work needed to be done to make sure students felt they could declare their mental health issues without fear of missing out on a place at university.

Murray, who was studying English, is one of 12 students at Bristol who have killed themselves or are suspected of taking their own lives since September 2016.

During his inquest at Avon coroner’s court, Murray’s parents, James and Janet, said the university had failed their son.

They believe Murray was troubled and asked for help from the university but nobody saw him face to face to address his concerns.

On Thursday, Voisin ruled that Ben died from multiple injuries as a result of suicide. She said: “It is clear from the act that lead to Ben’s death that he intended to take his life.

“There were a number of issues in his personal life that support this evidence. His place had been withdrawn and he owed a significant debt for his accommodation.

“I will be writing to Bristol University, the Department for Education, the minister of suicide prevention [Jackie Doyle-Price] and Ucas [which helps process university applications].”

The coroner continued: “Bristol University have clearly made many fundamental changes to their practices since Ben’s death, and they should be praised for that. But there needs to be a move towards de-stigmatising mental health.

“Currently, only 37% of students [with a mental health issue] disclose it on their Ucas form or to their uni. More students need to be assured that disclosing this will not affect their place.”

Fully story: Guardian

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions select committee, has criticised the Government for not devoting enough time or energy to their response to a report published by the committee about Universal Credit. The committee refers to the response as “skimpy and disappointing”.

Responding to Frank Field’s comments, Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations at Mind, said:

“The Work and Pensions Select Committee report yet again highlighted the many difficulties people face under Universal Credit. We know thousands of people with mental health problems are struggling to cope every week with this new benefits system. We’ve heard repeatedly from people at crisis point still being required to look for work or risk losing their benefits. We’re also concerned about what will happen to people still receiving older disability benefits moving over to the new system. We have repeatedly asked the Government to address issues and guarantee that no one receiving benefits will be worse off if they are unable to make a new claim.

“Many people are slipping through the net during the move to Universal Credit – because they’ve moved house, for example, or been in hospital for treatment. The Government should be taking steps to address these issues, so it’s worrying that the Work and Pensions committee don’t feel the Government is listening to its recommendations to improve the way Universal Credit works.

“If the Government is determined to forge ahead with Universal Credit, it needs to take responsibility in tackling urgent problems affecting thousands of people – issues requiring serious attention, not scant responses.”

Source: National Mind

Screen time has little effect on the psychological wellbeing of teenagers, regardless of whether they use devices for hours a day or just before bedtime, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University.

The research, based on analysis of the screen use of more than 17,000 teenagers across Ireland, the US and the UK, found use of screens before bedtime was completely unrelated to psychological wellbeing, and screen time more generally had a “minuscule” effect on wellbeing in teenagers when compared with other activities in an adolescent’s life.

The effect was believed to be small enough that adolescents “would need to report 63 hours and 31 minutes’ more of technology use a day in their time-use diaries to decrease their wellbeing” by an amount big enough for them to notice.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, is an important data point in the growing debate about whether excessive screen time can damage the mental health of young people.

Full story: Guardian

A couple of years ago, the actor and choreographer Lanre Malaolu was creating a duet about mental health. “I was working with an amazing contortionist dancer,” he remembers. “But for various reasons she had to drop out … I didn’t have time to get anyone else.” He swears under his breath and smiles, before explaining how he sat in his living room and tried to come up with a quick solo performance. “I was like, ‘What’s one of the challenges that I’ve experienced with anxiety, depression? Getting out of bed.’”

The scene Malaolu made “was almost verging on clownish. I was using physical theatre and hip-hop movement to show this guy just wanting to get up.” The performance went down a storm. “People were really affected by it, and were like, ‘You need to tour this around.’ I was like, ‘It’s only 15 minutes!’ But that got me thinking.” Malaolu has expanded that single scene into a full-length show, Elephant in the Room, which now has a three-week run at Camden People’s theatre in London.

“Basically, it’s about a young man’s challenges with his mental health,” he says. “But also how he interacts with different characters that he’s grown up with, and how they influence his perception [of his mental wellbeing].” The piece mixes dance, theatre and spoken word, with Malaolu playing the mostly silent protagonist Michael and the other characters.

Conversations about mental health have become more visible, with the likes of Zayn Malik and Prince Harry openly discussing their struggles. There has been a rise, too, in theatrical work on the subject such as Milly Thomas’s Dust, a look at one young woman’s suicide, and I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, in which performance artist Bryony Kimmings looked at her trauma-related breakdown. Masculinity and the mental health of young men are considered in Barber Shop Chronicles, which is coming to the Roundhouse, London, after two National Theatre runs and an international tour, and Fledgling Theatre’s Neck or Nothing, which is at the Pleasance theatre, London, this month, in partnership with men’s suicide prevention charity Calm.

Full story: Guardian

Children and young people with mental health problems will be routinely asked about their use of social media under new guidance being issued to NHS psychiatrists.

Under-18s seeking help with conditions such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders will be questioned to see whether using Facebook, Instagram or other platforms is causing or exacerbating their illness.

As a result, when they first meet young people, psychiatrists will ask if accessing such sites is affecting their sleep, performance at school, mood or eating habits.

They will try, for example, to establish whether troubled young people have spent time on sites that promote self-harm or encourage anorexia.

Parents will also be asked what devices are in their homes, which ones their child uses and how often, and whether their offspring look at screens during meals or while adults are doing chores.

The guidance has been issued by the Royal College of Psychiatrists at a time of growing concern that long hours spent on social media, and some of its content, are damaging young people’s psychological health.

It is the first time the RCP, which represents psychiatrists professionally and sets standards for the profession, has advised members to investigate how much social media has added to young patients’ difficulties.

Full story: Guardian

Women across England and Wales will get vital mental health support as part of a major new programme launched by mental health charity Mind and Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk.

The £1.8 million programme, called Women Side by Side, will increase the availability of high quality, community-based peer support for women through around 70 projects delivered by specialist organisations across the country.

The projects will particularly benefit women experiencing multiple disadvantage – for example those experiencing mental health problems, homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, abuse and violence, family breakdown, offending or a combination of these.

Around one in five (19 per cent) women experience a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression. More than one in two women with a mental health problem has experienced some form of violence and abuse.

Five new hubs (four in England and one in Wales), which will act as learning centres supporting every project, are already up and running. The hubs, run by women’s organisations, are using their specialist expertise and links to community organisations to make sure all services understand and respond to women’s specific needs, including their experiences of trauma and abuse. 

Research has shown that peer support – getting support from people who have similar experiences – improves people’s wellbeing and helps them manage their mental health problem, enabling them to choose what kind of support works best for them. Peer support is also a good investment and can help decrease other healthcare costs, for example by reducing hospital admissions by people with mental health problems. 

Full story: National Mind

The Department for Work and Pensions should be stripped of its responsibility for providing social security benefits and job support to ill and disabled people, a thinktank has urged.

A scathing report by Demos says public trust in the DWP has been shattered by a series of botched reforms to disability benefits, and the imposition of a brutal sanctions regime that has left many vulnerable claimants stressed and in poverty.

The department is risk averse, defensive and seen as hostile to claimants, it says. “With its current configuration, culture and reputation, it is impossible for the DWP to engage meaningfully with ill and disabled people,” it concludes.

Benefits such as the employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (Pip) should be instead handled by devolved governments, while job support could be run by councils, the NHS and charities, it says.

“After years of failings, ill and disabled people have lost all faith in the DWP. This demands a radical rethink of the department’s responsibilities,” said the report’s author, the Demos researcher Ben Glover.

The call comes amid concern over what critics say is the DWP’s punitive and insensitive benefits policy and contemptuous treatment of some claimants. Last year the chair of the charity Scope, the former top civil servant Andrew McDonald, who receives Pip because he has Parkinson’s and terminal cancer, called the disability benefits system a “hostile environment”.

The DWP’s reputation has been battered in recent years over its handling of disability benefits, including its widely distrusted fit for work tests, its Pip assessments, and its plans to migrate of hundreds of thousands of existing ESA claimants on to the much-derided universal credit benefit over the next three years.

Full story: Guardian

When does a child become an adult? The answer to this question is in many ways muddier than it was. Over the last decades, the traditional landmarks of adulthood in the west – a job, a marriage, a home of one’s own and a child – have been delayed or have disappeared. Legally, though, the answer is still clearcut: 18.

Jessica, 19, lives in south Wales and hopes to go to college to study childcare. She likes to spend her time chatting with friends in Costa or on the phone; she loves dancing and singing, and she plays the ukulele. She used to enjoy hanging out at her local youth club, having pizza and playing games, but since turning 18, she has had to leave. At times, her voice is soft and playful and she sounds younger than her age; at others, her tone has an edge of irony and she sounds far older. She has spent the past few years in mental health services, and says of her experiences: “You’re in a sea of your own because you’re so young and naive.”

The story Jessica tells is heartbreaking. After some traumatic experiences at the age of 13, she began self-harming, she says, because she felt she could control that physical pain, unlike the emotional agony in which she was drowning. She had panic attacks and was referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in her mid-teens; at 17, she had two admissions of a few weeks each to a CAMHS psychiatric unit. When she was discharged, she became a patient with the CAMHS intensive treatment team, whom she saw three times a week for therapy, activities and supportive chats. It was working: her self-harm reduced, she felt safer, and she was making progress towards recovery.

Then she turned 18.

The CAMHS team continued caring for her for a further three months, to bridge the waiting time until she could be seen by Adult Mental Health Services (AMHS), who told her (against the recommendations of her previous clinicians) that her care would be reduced from three times a week to once. She had an introductory session and was told she would be phoned back, but the call never came. Her mother chased it up, and was told that the clinician she had seen once had moved on, so Jessica was put on another waiting list and told to expect a delay of “six to 18 months”, she says.

All the painstaking progress she had made was undone in an instant. “It all just fell apart. I had gone from having help three times a week from people who know me, whom I trusted, to nothing at all. It felt as if the world had been ripped from underneath my feet, and I was falling into a deep hole. My self-harming behaviours increased, and I attempted suicide. I felt helpless, alone and scared of what I was going to do to myself.” After less than a month with no treatment, Jessica was sectioned on an adult psychiatric ward, where she was the youngest patient by 10 years. She stayed there for five months.

Eighteen. Is there a more tumultuous period in a person’s life? It is a time of such tremendous change: the end of school and the structure it provides, the beginning of work or university or whatever comes next, of adult life and the freedom it promises; the fears and exhilaration of leaving home or the fears and disappointment of being left behind. The loss of people and places, the coming of the new and unknown. A moment of such volatility and vulnerability that it is comparable to infancy.

For a healthy 18-year-old, this change can bring uncertainty and anxiety, yes, but also excitement. For an 18-year-old with severe mental health problems, it can mean deterioration and danger. If you had to pick the worst moment in a troubled young person’s life to withdraw the help they have been receiving and to thrust them into an unfamiliar system where they do not know when or even if they will get the help they need, the age of 18 may well be it.

Yet that is exactly how most mental health services are structured.

Full story: Guardian

The number of people being sent hundreds of miles away from their families for mental health treatment rather than cared for locally has increased over the last twelve months.

In April 2016, the government said within four years it would eliminate the practice of uprooting individuals due to local bed shortages, which is generally thought to impede or delay recovery.

Some 7,655 new mental health “out of area” placements (OAPs) occurred last year. 96 percent of these occurred not because specialist care was available elsewhere, but because of a lack of local provision.

Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind, said: “The NHS has promised to completely eradicate inappropriate out of area placements, and yet we can see that the number of these placements between September and December last year increased from the same period the year before. This is disturbing. We are nearing the NHS’s own target of zero out of area placements by 2020/21, but the figures are going in the opposite direction. There is a huge amount of work still to do to get the numbers down.”

“Too many people with mental health problems are being forced to travel hundreds of kilometres from their friends and family to receive the treatment they need. This can worsen people’s chances of recovery, as well as being expensive for the NHS and the taxpayer. In December 2018 alone, 250 people were sent 300km or more away from home to get help. We urgently need to see investment in mental health services reaching the frontline, so that people can get the treatment they need, when they need it, close to home.”

“The NHS has rightly made ambitious commitments for improving mental health care. But while we are waiting for these to be delivered, thousands of people continue to face the traumatic experience of being sent away from home and separated from their support network to get the help they need. This is a crucial year and the urgency of the NHS delivering on its promises cannot be overstated. It must do far better for the people with mental health problems in its care right now.”

Out of area placements cost, rather than save, the NHS money. On average, the health service pays £545 / day for each relocated individual. This amounted to a figure in excess of £100m in 2018.

Source: Mental Health Today

People with a gambling problem are 15 times more likely to take their own life, according to the largest study of its kind, prompting calls for swifter action by the government to tackle betting addiction.

Academics at Lund University, Sweden, monitored more than 2,000 people with gambling disorders, finding a significantly elevated risk of suicide among participants compared with the general population over an 11-year period.

The study found that suicide rates increased 19-fold among men between the ages of 20 and 49 if they had a gambling problem and by 15 times among men and women of all ages.

The authors of the research said that while the causes of suicide were complex and likely to involve more than one factor, their work indicated gambling disorders were associated with far higher than average rates of suicide.

Campaigners said that if the same results were applied to the UK, the Swedish study would indicate around 550 suicides a year in which gambling played a part, or more than 10 per week.

“This research confirms the high number of gambling-related suicides that Gambling with Lives families brought to public attention after the deaths of our children,” said Charles and Liz Ritchie, who founded the charity after their son Jack took his own life aged 24 following a gambling addiction.

“The lack of recognition of the scale of this problem has been shocking and we call on the government to take immediate action to save lives.”

There is just one specialist problem gambling clinic in the UK, although a second is due to open in Leeds after the government promised greater funding for treatment as part of a 10-year plan for the NHS.

Full story: Guardian