Further education colleges are referring increasing numbers of students with mental health problems directly to A&E, according to new research.
A poll of 105 colleges - almost a third of the total in England - found three-quarters have referred students directly to A&E in the past academic year (2015/16) due to a mental health crisis.
Some 85% of colleges also said there had been a rise in the number of students with mental health issues in the past three years.
Eight out of 10 said there are also significant numbers of students with mental health problems that have not been diagnosed.
The poll, by the Association of Colleges (AoC), also found that just 40% of colleges now have a full-time counsellor or mental health worker on campus due to cuts in funding.
While most colleges felt they had a good relationship with their local child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), 48% said their relationship with clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which commission mental health services, was non-existent.
Ian Ashman, president of the AoC, said: “Accident and emergency units are overloaded and overcrowded and it is not right that colleges are forced to refer so many students to these services, which are often not the most appropriate place for them.
“Colleges don’t want to add to the current problems A&E services are experiencing, but they are sometimes left with no choice because there is a lack of investment in joined-up specialist support for young people and adults in the community.
“Colleges do excellent work in helping students to stay well and to support those with mental ill health.
“However, where they have good relationships with their local mental health services, they are able to do much more to address issues before they become serious.
“Effective intervention by such partnerships can avoid students developing more serious problems or getting to the point of a mental health crisis.”
AoC said mental health service funding should be used to help the NHS develop closer relationships with colleges.