Students with mental health issues are in danger of dropping out of college due to difficulties in getting referred for treatment, the president of NUS Scotland has warned.
Vonnie Sandlan said exams, deadlines and financial difficulties had been identified as the main triggers of mental distress.
Worries about accommodation, relationships and finding employment both temporary and on graduating are also sources of anxiety.
However, Sandlan says many students faced problems accessing treatment because by the time they reach the top of the waiting list on the health board covering their university area they have gone home when term ends. The same scenario is affecting students nearing the top of the list in their own home area who then return to university starting the referral process again, or those starting university for the first time.
Latest NUS Scotland figures show a 47 per cent increase in students in Scotland seeking help with mental health.
While the national target for Scotland is that patients should be seen within 18 weeks, many health boards are struggling.
Sandlan is proposing “passporting” – meaning NHS Scotland should allow students to maintain the position they are a waiting list and transfer it to another health board.
“If students don’t have access to the support they need as they approach exams, their academic performance could be affected or, in the worst case, they could end up leaving education altogether.
“We cannot take away from the hard work university and college staff do, often going above and beyond to help students in need, but this is a national problem that needs a national solution.
Sandlan added: “As the Scottish Government rolls out their new Mental Health Strategy, we need to see action to ensure our national mental health services are able to meet the unique needs of our students, which absolutely must include a conversation around the portability, flexibility, and accessibility of services.”
Miles Briggs, MSP, Scottish Conservative mental health spokesman, said: “It’s important we give students all the support they need, especially promoting good mental health.
“While we should aim to reduce waiting times for mental health services as much as possible, any passporting system would have to be analysed to ensure it didn’t negatively affect others who were also in need of help.”