Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Working Group minutes: 24 June 2019

Notes of the meeting held on 24 June 2019.

Attendees and apologies

  • Gareth Allen, Scottish Government (Chair)
  • Catherine Brown, Scottish Government
  • Stevie Boal, Scottish Government (Secretariat)
  • Steven Paxton, Scottish Government (Secretariat)
  • Susan Anton, Scottish Government
  • Ally Winford, Scottish Government
  • Matt Deary, Scottish Government
  • Jennifer Russell, South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership
  • Professor Pamela Gilles, Glasgow Caledonian University and Universities Scotland
  • Lynne Currie, Universities Scotland
  • Ruth Unsworth, University of St Andrews
  • Fiona Drouet, Emily Test
  • Lauren McNamara, SAAS
  • Ronnie Millar, University of Edinburgh and Heads of University Counselling Services
  • Jill Stevenson, University of Stirling and AMOSSHE
  • Andy Witty, Colleges Scotland
  • Trudi Tokarczyk, Colleges Scotland
  • Liz Connolly, West College Scotland
  • Iain Forster-Smith, West College Scotland
  • Colin Sinclair, NHS Scotland National Services
  • Brian Magee, COSCA 
  • Steve Mulligan, BACP
  • Kirsten Amis, BACP
  • Fiona Burns, Scottish Funding Council
  • Emma Roberts, Scottish Funding Council
  • David Livey, NUS Scotland
  • Keir McKechnie, SAMH


  • Francis Harrower, Colleges Scotland
  • Alan Sherry, Colleges Scotland
  • Nicola Dickie, COSLA
  • Gavin Bruce, Scottish Funding Council
  • Liam McCabe, NUS Scotland

Items and actions

Welcome and introduction

The Chair welcomed everyone present to the meeting and the attendees introduced themselves.

Minutes of the working group of 3 May 2019

The working group approved, subject to textual amendments, the minutes of its meeting of 3 May 2019. The working group further agreed that its minutes be published on a dedicated page on the Scottish Government’s web site.

Matters arising

Matters arising from the meeting of the working group of 3 May 2019 were being discussed at the meeting: revised working group remit and draft Student Mental Health Funding and Guidance Principles.

Revised working group remit

Steven Paxton presented a revised working group remit which has been amended to take account of the comments of the working group from its first meeting in May. The revised remit was approved, subject to a slight textual amendment highlighting the importance of NHS Scotland referral pathways and support mechanisms. The working group further agreed that its remit be published on the Scottish Government’s web site.

Whole system approaches and SAAS outreach work

The working group received four short presentations from the University of St Andrews, University of Edinburgh and West College Scotland on their whole system approaches to student mental health and well-being and from the Students Award Agency Scotland (SAAS) on its outreach to schools, colleges and universities.

The working group noted a number of common themes in the presentations: including the importance of an effective local relationship with NHS Scotland; the use of triage and a matched/matching care approach; the role of mental health support workers and well-being advisors for students facing life experience issues; collaborative working with student’s associations; and the accessibility of counselling services. The working group also noted the reach of SAAS in schools and its work around highlighting well-being.

The working group thanked the presenters and agreed to consider the key elements of an effective whole systems approach further at its next meeting.

Developing an evidence base

The working group received an update from the SFC and NUS Scotland on proposed research. Universities Scotland and the Mental Health Foundation had proposed research around articulating the identifiers of success in student mental health and well-being provision within an Enhancement Framework. The proposal would be considered by the SFC’s senior management team later in June.  

NUS Scotland, as part of its Think Positive Work, are proposing to undertake research on the student experience of mental health services. The brief for this work has now gone to tender and it is hoped that the research work would commence in September 2019. There will be opportunities for colleges to contribute to the research.  

West College Scotland, advised that they had been invited to be part of the Research Advisory Group in relation to “Being a student with care experience is very daunting: Findings from a survey of care experienced students in Scottish colleges and universities” undertaken by Centre for Excellence in Childers’s Care and Protection (CELCIS). The report could help to inform work around student mental health and well-being. 

The working group noted these very helpful updates. 

Children and Young People’s Mental Health Task Force

Matt Deary updated the working group on the work of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Task Force, chaired by Dr Dame Denise Coia, which had been jointly commissioned by Scottish Government and COSLA to undertake a whole system review of children and young people’s mental health in Scotland in June 2018. The task force had published its initial recommendations in September 2018 and work streams were established to take these recommendations forward. 

In Spring 2019, Dr Dame Denise stepped down from the task force. Ministers and COSLA leaders decided that a move towards an implementation phase would be the most pragmatic way forward. Further details will be published summer 2019, following the publication of the task force’s final recommendations to SG and COSLA.  

The working group in noting the position (a) highlighted that the experience of students should be articulated in the next phase implementation; and (b)  agreed that a member of the task force should be represented on the working group.

Student mental health funding and guidance principles

A  paper was presented setting out the methodology and method which has informed the suggested approach to student mental health funding and guidance.

The methodology sought to provide a nuanced approach to determine the allocation of resources to support the provision of more than eighty additional counsellors over the next four years. It is based on funding and guidance principles, developed by the Scottish Funding Council (shared at the first meeting of the working group) and underpinned by the principle of collaboration across the sectors, including the Third Sector and NHS Scotland. The more nuanced approach, beyond a formula based solely on student numbers, would be informed by declarations from students about mental ill-health, composite measures of well-being, mental ill health and rurality.  

The working group welcomed receiving the paper, and the following comments arose in the discussion of the funding and guidance principles: 

  • the value of preventative work should be highlighted, (this was a recurring theme in the discussion). Addressing student mental health concerns is more than the provision of counsellors. A flexible, whole system approach is needed
  • attention should be paid to equality of access – this is not necessarily an equal split of resources between the sectors
  • priority should be given to colleges in the allocation of resources in recognition of their starting point in terms of counselling provision compared to the university sector. It is important to avoid a two tier system
  • the importance of clear referral pathways for students in crisis was highlighted
  • does the allocation take account of international students?
  • what is the rationale of giving everybody one counsellor?
  • consideration should be given to support mechanisms like Silver Cloud or Big White Wall
  • are the use of Composite Indicators too complicated?
  • reference was made to the SRUC and UHI being treated as colleges for the allocation – could this please be checked with them?
  • concern expressed about waiting lists for very vulnerable students. The importance of embedded supported services, not just counselling was highlighted
  • reference was made to NHS England’s Strategy and the importance of involving students in the conversation
  • the SFC Guidance, which will accompany the allocation, will be an important place to set out requirements around evaluation

The working group agreed to receive for comment a draft of the SFC guidance which will accompany the allocation. 

Membership of the group

The working group agreed that its membership include James Jopling, Executive Director for Scotland at Samaritans and Ruth Unsworth, University of St Andrews.

The working group noted that, following consultation with STUC, trade unions will be represented on the group and engage with its work and that professionals and other service providers could be invited to present to the group on specific topics. 

Working group meetings for the rest of the year

The working group agreed  (a) to meet again in September at which time it would consider a draft work plan and receive an update on the work of the task force and (b) to meet thereafter in November.
The meeting finished at 16:00 hours.

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