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University staff warn of lack of training to deal with suicide risks

LOW-PAID and under-resourced university staff in Wales lack training to cope with the rising number of students self-harming and threatening suicide, Unison Cymru warned today.

The higher education union said that its latest “heart-breaking” survey reveals a workforce struggling to deal with an increasing number of at-risk young adults. 

The workers — from housekeepers to maintenance staff — told the union that they feel “ill-equipped to help students self-harming or considering suicide because they lack the training and resources to provide support.”

The worsening situation is being exacerbated by reports of the same staff suffering mental health issues of their own, as they grapple with chronically low pay and severe job insecurity, Unison said.

One university worker told the union: “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 before I do as I know the deluge of work I will face.”

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.”

Union Cymru head of higher education Lynne Hackett, who presented the survey’s findings to the Senedd education committee today, said: “We know that mental health issues do not just affect students but 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 in turn will have an adverse effect on students, negatively impacting their health and their experience of university life.”

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association was contacted for comment. 

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