With increased financial, academic and social pressures, there’s arguably never been a more stressful time for students – and that can have a big impact on their overall mental well-being.
Nearly five times as many students as 10 years ago disclose mental health conditions to their universities, according to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), resulting in an increase in the need for access to their institutions’ mental health services.
However, an increase in demand means that many services are only able to offer students short-term solutions, such as brief counselling sessions or medication. Some students are also having to wait over four months for treatment at some universities.
Andrew, 19, a second-year history student at the University of Warwick, says he has been on the waiting list for his university’s counselling programme for over a year.
He said: “I didn’t want to sell myself as a suicide risk and I may have underplayed that to the extent that they thought ‘oh well, he’s fine, we’ll leave him’.
“Because I have a diagnosed condition, it means they’d have to commit to me every week for three years. I think they were looking more to help people with short-term issues.
“Being put on a waiting list alienates you from seeking help, this is the problem. It’s painfully clear when you talk to someone from the university counselling programme that they just didn’t have enough staff for the number of students.”
University counselling services are struggling to meet the overwhelming demand. The results of an IPPR survey of 58 UK higher education providers shows 94% have experienced an increase in demand for counselling services over the past five years, while 61% have seen demand increase by over 25%.
Dr Martin Cunningham, a GP and member of the Student Health Association, said: “The services are working at full stretch. The number of students presenting themselves with mental health issues has shot up and the services are working very hard, but they are funded in such a way that it is really short-term work.”
A lack of resources can mean that when students do receive counselling, it is sometimes not focused on long-term solutions.
Former physics and animations student Bertie, 25, who attended the universities of Kent, Sussex and UWE, said: “I’d receive counselling once every week or once every other week. I’d feel a bit better that day or for a few hours afterwards but apart from that, it was just back to the same.”
Other students report being offered medication as a form of treatment, without any strategies for dealing with mental health issues in the future.
One University of Kent student, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “They recommended I take SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) but I didn’t want to take any medication.
“I wish I was offered alternatives to medication and counselling that actually advised me on steps I could take in the future.”
Alan Percy, chair of the Heads of University Counselling Services, a specialist group of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), stressed that university counselling services are facing pressure to have their students’ needs met immediately.
“This means that many student services offer short-term fixes which are less helpful in the longer term,” he said.
“However, there is no magic solution. The danger would be for all the emphasis to be on services to offer speedy appointments but not to be able to offer the appropriate level of professional counselling for those who need it.”
Levels of mental illness, mental distress and low wellbeing among students in higher education in the UK are increasing,and are high relative to other sections of the population.
The University of Kent says it is working with the NHS to enable easier access to mental health services.
“When a student requests counselling, they are asked to complete a self-assessment form which then enables us to triage clients, where those with the most urgent need are given the highest priority,” it said in a statement.
“We also offer a daily crisis drop-in centre and self-help services such as Big White Wall, a 24/7 online mental health and well-being service.”
The University of Warwick also said it provides an extensive range of mental health services for its students, adding: “We have recently committed over £500k extra to support Well-being Support Services, including additional outreach workers alongside an enhanced range of services available to students.”
Jackie Doyle-Price, minister for Mental Health and Inequalities, said her department spent £11.6 billion on mental health services last year and is pledging to work with Universities UK to make sure students feel supported.
She said: “University is a pivotal time in people’s lives, which is why we are working closely with university leaders to make good mental health central to their student services.”
She wants GPs to be unable to prescribe anti-depressants to under-18s without the knowledge of their parents.
MSPs have ordered more information on whether children are prescribed anti-depressants as “the first port of call or the last port of call”.
Annette sees this as a turning point in her fight.
She said: “For me this is about the minister for mental health agreeing we have a real problem with teens and treatment and the way we treat children.
“No child should go on a first visit to a GP with depression and leave with any medication without being referred first to someone who deals with mental health.”
She wants the change for her other daughter and for her son and everyone else’s sons and daughters.
Young people contact her with similar problems: “The number of young people who have reached out to me, who I’ve spoken with and helped to get in contact with someone who can help them has helped me too.
“I’ve even had messages from people who said they were going to end their life but once reading my Facebook wall – the stuff I keep public – and watching my videos they say they can’t leave their parents in the pain I’m in.
“It’s bitter sweet – Britney’s story is saving not only her friends who knew her but also people she never knew and for me that’s a positive thing.”
Annette takes comfort in watching Britney’s friends living their lives to the full and never taking for granted what they have.
She wants to talk to as many young people as possible and get them to help each other when they have mental health issues or concerns for each other.
And at the end of the petition she named Britney’s Plea, Annette wants at the very least to see better guidelines for GPs when prescribing medication for young people.
She said: “Hopefully they will agree to bring in place new training for GP’s and I also hope they make it that no child or person is given pills on a first-ever visit to a GP.
“I want them to have to be referred and seen by a mental health professional before any treatment is given.
“If that had been in place with Britney she wouldn’t have been given those pills.”
She wants more discussion of the issues.
“I don’t want this to be the end.
“I want to be out there helping people, taking to them about mental health – about Britney.”
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BOXER Frank Bruno has spoken of the “shame” he felt after being sectioned for mental health issues and told how “ego” can stop men from seeking help.
Frank Bruno says he felt ‘shame’ after being sectioned for mental health issues
The former heavyweight also said prescription medication made him suicidal. And he compared his battle back to health to fighting an “opponent” in the ring.
He now credits regular exercise and appreciating the simple things in life for restoring his health and bringing him contentment
Frank, 56, was sectioned under the Mental Health Act in 2003 when he suffered a nervous breakdown and twice again in 2012 after concerns over his bipolar disorder.
In a moving interview, Frank said: “Being sectioned, police coming down to my house and an ambulance taking me away. What was going through my mind was shame, all the neighbours know what you’re going through.”
The father-of-four added: “To be able to overcome mental health, you need to take control and have the support of others, too. It’s a man’s ego thing, if someone says go get help, you don’t, you refuse to and you refuse to go to the doctor.
“I can be stubborn. The first thing was me admitting it. The more you keep it in the more you explode when it comes out.
“So, if you’ve got something wrong with you, there are people to see.”
Although he had been struggling before his divorce from wife Laura in 2001 and retirement, a lack of routine and fights to prepare for hit Frank hard.
His life spiralled out of control and his behaviour became unpredictable, suffering hyperactivity and insomnia.
He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed strong medication, leaving Frank battling the biggest fight of his life.
He said: “Your brain is the most important thing out of anything in your life to look after. The medication they gave me, the side-effects kick in.
“They are filling up people with these [drugs] like zombies. The medication made me suicidal, they mess up your head and you can’t sleep. I’m up walking around, breakdancing, so much energy, like superman, and going in the gym all the time.”
Frank added: “We’re all under pressure…it’s how you handle it. How you really take it in mentally and are strong enough to take the mental opponent on and beat it with your willpower.
“I go to the health club quite a lot. I go there in the gym, use the sauna and go for a swim. I eat healthy food and get the right environment around. That relaxes me.
“Exercising the body makes the mind better. Always look after yourself, watch your diet. You go to the gym, get your heart working, heart rate up, you feel so much better. Physical activity can have a profound impact on your mental well-being.
“Some days you have more energy than others, but you’ve got to learn to survive. You may have a mortgage and you can’t pay the mortgage, you’ve been kicked out of your house, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and keep ducking and diving.
“I’m content for what I’ve got and I’m grateful for what I’ve got. I used to have more things than now, but I’m grateful now. Having health, physical and mental, gives me contentment.
“As long as I put food on the table and I get out of the house,” he admitted.
“I’ve got some nice suits, got a nice car, but there’s only one suit you can wear, only one car you can drive. So, as long as you’ve got your health, that’s the most fascinating thing. And contentment when you wake up in the morning.”
“Family life is good, everything’s fine, I can’t grumble one little bit. I wake up in the morning and breathe and be happy, just duck and dive. What else can you ask for? I’m grateful.”
Frank now runs The Frank Bruno Foundation, a charity which runs boxing and wellbeing programs to boost mental health among children, young people and adults.
He also paid tribute to fellow charity campaigner Prince Harry, who he has met on a number of occasions “The royal wedding is coming up soon. Prince Harry is a very nice lad. I met the Queen several times.
“I’m a supporter of Prince Harry, he’s done a good job for racial equality and good luck to him. I wish him the best.”
Frank also admits that he suffered racism and bullying during his life.
“I did suffer bullying and racism, but everybody suffers that in some shape or form, but I dealt with it.
“[Bullies] feel brave with their crowd. I’ve been in situations and there’s been a crowd of people chanting different things, but as soon as you confront them one on one they back down.”
Frank’s boxing career ended in 1995, but he remains one of Britain’s best-loved sports stars.
He won 40 out of 45 professional fights and was crowned champion of the world in 1995.
His boxing career may be behind him, but we may see him turn to training boxers instead, hints Frank.
“I’m not making a comeback in the ring, by the way,” said Frank, adding: “I do have my trainer’s licence now.”
He said: “I was lucky that someone stopped me from committing suicide and the only reason I’m sharing this is because there is always another way no matter what. So please, please talk before doing something stupid.”
The teen previously opened up about his struggles on World Mental Health Day, October 10, and told how he was fobbed off by his doctor because he wasn’t “bad enough yet”.
In a powerful Twitter post, he wrote: “After explaining to my doctor (who knows I already have a pre-existing issue) I was told there are a lot of people worse than me and that I probably wouldn’t be dealt with and that I wasn’t bad enough yet and that I’m going to have to find another way to get help for my issues.
“Basically told me that I need to wait until a get closer to breaking point and then come back.
“The reason I’m sharing something that is personal to me, is I can’t stress how different things could’ve panned out for myself if I didn’t talk and I want to make sure that people know help is there, even though for me I tried and nobody helped.
“So anyone out there who is currently feeling not right, talk to your pals, your family or even f****** me, because those are the people who will pull you out that dark place.”
Tributes have poured in for the popular teen, including from Rory’s heartbroken girlfriend Caitlin Brigham, who said: “My amazing boyfriend got his angel wings this morning.”
More and more people are talking about mental health, and that’s brilliant. However, there’s still a lot to learn about it – and it seems handling how you talk about ‘recovery’ plays a big factor in this.
I was recently listening to the radio when the hosts started discussing mental illness and recovery. They talked about how many people are able to recover from mental illness, without actually disclosing with mental illnesses they were talking about. Personally, I believe this to be somewhat dangerous because despite making their listeners more aware of mental illness, they gave off the impression that all mental illnesses can be recovered from. And this is simply not the case.
Many mental illnesses are chronic illnesses – they are lifelong or persistent illnesses that don’t just go away. Part of the problem contributing to the misunderstanding of mental illness is that we don’t realise this. We’re still not seeing mental illness as a real illness, as we would a physical one. If we did, people suffering from them would believe they’re going to be taken seriously when they finally find the courage to seek help. And so, we should move this process along by learning that there is a total difference between recovery and remission. In most cases, mental illness is incurable. Disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety are life-long illnesses that have no cure. Sure, there are ways to help a person living with a mental illness such as these – through means of therapy, psychiatry and medication. But this doesn’t cure the underlying cause, it simply helps to balance it out and gives a person living with a mental illness a chance at an easier way of life. But even with all of that help, a person can still crash.
I live with bipolar disorder, and I take a cocktail of medications every night – mood stabilisers, anti-psychotics and anxiety tablets mainly. While most of the time, these keep me balanced and feeling okay, there are times when it stops working. I’ll go into a hypomanic episode or a depressive, and I can only wait out the erratic ride until it’s finally over. After several weeks, I’ll be back to my ‘stable’ self. This does not mean I’ve recovered from my bipolar disorder. It simply means I’m in remission. And this applies for most other serious mental illnesses, too. Remission is the temporary diminution of symptoms of mental illness. At least, the most extreme of symptoms. A person can feel as okay as they possibly can for days, weeks, months and even years – and still experience symptoms of their mental illness. And people need to realise this when talking about mental illness. It’ll help people finally realise that the likes of running, eating better and drinking more water aren’t anything more than a helping factor in feeling better within yourself.