University staff lacking mental health training says union

UNIVERSITY staff in Wales lack training to cope with rising numbers of students self-harming and threatening suicide, public sector trade union Unison has said.

A survey by Unison Cymru has revealed university support staff in Wales being faced with a rise in students self-harming and reporting suicidal thoughts, while at the same time having to deal with mental health issues of their own.

Low-paid university workers, from housekeepers to maintenance staff, have told Unison they feel ill-equipped to help students struggling in very serious situations, where they may be self-harming or considering suicide, because they lack the training and resources to provide support.

And the same staff have themselves said they are facing mental health issues.

One university worker told Unison: “My workload is excessive. I work hundreds more hours a year than I should.

“Returning from leave is very difficult and I have a sick feeling for a few days before I do, as I know the deluge of work I will face on my return.”

Another said: “A lack of staff and pressure to take on more work has meant night times and weekends are spent recovering from exhaustion.”

This comes as others reported a “significant increase” in the number of students self-harming.

One university worker in Wales even said they witnessed a student death and added: “I have witnessed self-harming in students and also, unfortunately I witnessed a student death and also a major medical incident which led to a student having life-saving surgery.”

While another said: “We have had students expressing their wish to end their lives, this has involved sitting with them for five hours after we are supposed to go home waiting for ambulances that never turn up.”

Asked to rate their current mental health on a scale of one to 10, 10 being perfect and one that you are experiencing real difficulties; 30.9 per cent of those spoken to had a score of four or below. A further 12.7 per cent had a score of five.

Lynne Hackett, head of higher education for Unison Cymru, will today (Wednesday October 26) present the survey results to the Senedd Education committee in Cardiff and said: “As the main trade union representing higher education support staff, we know that mental health issues do not just affect the students of the institutions, but the employees as well.

“There is a duty of care on employers to look after their employees, yet our survey reveals Welsh universities are not providing the mental health support their staff urgently require.

“This lack of care for support staff wellbeing will in turn have an adverse effect on students, negatively impacting their health and their experience of university life.

“Support staff are dedicated professionals and the first point of contact of students outside their lecture rooms, they want to be as well-trained as possible to support those young people experiencing mental health difficulties.

“Many support staff have told us they feel ill-equipped to help people struggling in those very serious situations, where they may be self-harming or considering suicide, because they lack training and the resources to provide support.”

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