I’ve struggled with my mental health for seven years. I’ve got anorexia, and depression and anxiety. It started at school when I was 11. I don’t remember the root causes. I just started being really anxious and restricting what I ate, and hiding food. I felt so worthless and horrible. I hated the way I looked. I started self-harming, my mood was really low and it all spiralled out of control.
I didn’t understand what was going on. After a while, I thought it was normal to feel like that. It’s only recently that I’ve started realising that a lot of people suffer.
When I was 14 a friend noticed I wasn’t eating and was really withdrawn and told a teacher. I was really angry and annoyed but, looking back, I’m glad she did that because I wouldn’t have said anything. They then told my parents and I was referred to child and adolescent mental health services. I still didn’t think anything was wrong with me.
My parents were heartbroken. I can’t imagine how hard it is for them. I’ve put them through so much. I was in hospital for just under a year and they had to visit me and see me in such a distressed state. I think they found it really tough and still do.
I felt I couldn’t go out for ages. Even now, when I go on public transport I get really anxious. At its worst I used to panic, my heart beat faster and I started shaking. My thoughts would race and I would think that everyone was staring at me and that something bad was going to happen. Everything was exaggerated. Most times, I felt like I deserved self-harming. It was like a punishment for eating or going out.
There are days when I feel more optimistic about my future. Things are still hard but I’m doing a lot better than I was. Quite a few people have told me that they struggle with anxiety. It’s not fair. I know some amazing and lovely people; they don’t deserve to be going through that.
Harvey Sparrow, 16, Badsey, Worcestershire
When I started my GCSEs, my school was really pushing everyone, saying we all had to do well and work hard. I’ve always been the sort of person who is very motivated but the stress started building slowly and I couldn’t handle it. The thought of going to school made me nervous and I felt like I wasn’t good enough. It carried on and I felt a lot of sadness and hopelessness. It was awful.
I started feeling really detached from myself. I didn’t feel in control of my body. It turned out that was a type of anxiety. My stomach felt like it was churning. I’d feel sick when I knew I didn’t have a stomach virus. I lost concentration and if there was even a small doubt about me doing well, I’d lose focus. I couldn’t deal with it. It got really dark at times. I felt there was no point in me being here because I wasn’t bringing anything to the world. I wasn’t making my life any better. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts. I told my dad and we went to see the doctor. It took a few appointments for them to take me seriously.
A lot of my friends have anxiety around school. I thought everyone else was OK because people didn’t show it. Some of them lose out on sleep, some sleep way too much and some are very depressed. They don’t see a point in living. I know what it’s like. But to hear them say things like that is shocking when in my eyes they’re amazing. I guess they would have said the same thing about me. It’s a weird situation.
When I talk to my dad he says he never wants anything bad to happen to me. Now I’m in a good place, I’m like: “Why would I ever think of ever hurting myself?” I don’t want to throw my life away just because I’m in a bad place.
• In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
The number of university students in Scotland seeking support for mental health issues has increased by two-thirds over five years, analysis shows.
The BBC asked universities across Scotland for the numbers of students seeking some form of support.
It found more than 11,700 students asked for help in 2016-17 compared with about 7,000 in 2012-13.
The 68% increased among students in Scotland was higher than the 53% total for the UK over the same period.
University counsellors and wellbeing staff told BBC Scotland that they deal with cases ranging from anxiety, depression, gender-based violence and body dysmorphia.
The figures – obtained by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit through freedom of information requests – showed that only 12 of Scotland’s 19 universities recorded how many students sought help for their health help over the five-year period.
The data shows:
The number of students seeking help for their mental health at the University of Edinburgh doubled over five years
The University of Glasgow experienced a 75% rise in students seeking help for their mental health between 2012-13 and 2016-17
The University of Stirling had a 74% rise in students seeking help for their mental health between 2012-13 and 2016-17
Glasgow School of Art experienced a 72% increase in students seeking help for their mental health over the same period
‘Not being able to return the favour had a toll on me’
Connor Smith was in his third year studying computer games development at the University of the West of Scotland when his close friend, who was also a student, took his own life.
“I was really shook up and didn’t know what to do with myself,” he said.
“I had struggled with my mental health before but the person who took his life was able to help me out of that, so not being able to return the favour had a toll on me.”
The university’s counselling team quickly offered to help Connor.
“I couldn’t speak to my family because I felt like I was burdening them,” he said.
“I couldn’t speak to my close friends either because they were going through the same thing.”
Connor said that he was struggling not only with the death of his friend but also his future prospects.
He said: “One evening I sat down and thought ‘what am I doing?’.
“I forced myself to work at university but I wasn’t in a good mind space. I really wasn’t enjoying what I was doing.”
Connor said he did not know what would have come of his life had it not been for the university’s support.
He said: “I wouldn’t have done so well.
“I might’ve quit university and if I did that, I don’t know what I would be doing.
“I had nothing lined up as a fall-back.”
Connor returned to counselling for a second time during his final year of studying. He was struggling with stress, overeating and had money worries.
He said: “[The support] wasn’t immediately available like before but, when I did get it, being able to speak to someone was so helpful.
“University was the best stretch of my life but easily the lowest I have been as well.”
‘I don’t like the term snowflake’
Ronnie Millar, director of counselling at the University of Edinburgh, said there is a “pernicious perfectionism” among students, which can affect their mental health.
He said: “When I was at university, there were no fees and we had student grants.
“Nowadays, more students have to work in part-time jobs and study, which puts a lot of pressure on them to succeed.”
Mr Millar said it was not helpful to label young people seeking help with terms such as snowflake, which imply they are less resilient than previous generations and too emotionally vulnerable.
He said: “I don’t like the term snowflake. I think it is a pejorative.
“In terms of resilience, some students struggle more than previous generations – but that’s not pointing the finger of blame.”
Mr Millar said that while there’s been a doubling in the male students coming forward for help for their mental health, the “proportion” has stayed the same over the five-year period.
“We say to students that [counselling] is not activity just for women, it’s for everyone.”
Social media bubble
Dr Phil Quinn, head of counselling and psychological services at the University of Glasgow, said that while there was greater awareness of the help available, a “saturated” NHS had resulted in fewer community services for students to access mental health support.
He said: “We have had a record year in terms of referrals to the service, of students starting their university careers with already diagnosed mental health conditions.”
The University of Glasgow employed 20 staff in 2016-17 – ranging from cognitive behavioural therapists and a consultant psychiatrist to a counselling manager – to assist with the 2,330 students that came forward that year.
Quinn believes that staff numbers are sufficient to meet demand, and that the increase in students coming forward for help is partly down to a “24-hour social media bubble” where they are exposed to “criticism, bullying, and abuse”.
Jackie Main, who is the director of student life at Glasgow Caledonian University, said it was not just the volume of students seeking support that was increasing but the complexity of the issues they presented with.
“We see a lot more crisis students than before,” she said.
“That could mean a student is actively self-harming, threatening suicide or requires being sectioned or hospitalised.
“Crisis students experience severe emotional distress, including panic attacks.”
At Glasgow Caledonian University, the number of students seeking support in 2016-17 hit 661, up 69% since 2012-13.
Ms Main added: “Anxiety and depression are the two big issues we’ve see increases in.
“We are not a crisis support service. We don’t have the resource and it is not our job. But we don’t let students fall through the net.”
Eight of Scotland’s universities provided the BBC with their total budgets for mental health services – which in some cases included services that don’t just support student mental health, such as a disability service – in the five years to 2016-7.
It revealed an increase of 31% from £2.4m to £3.1m.
The University of Strathclyde (which did not provide complete figures for the number of students seeking help between 2012-13 and 2016-17) was the only institution to report a decrease in its overall budget over the five year period, down by 18%.
A spokeswoman for the university put the drop down to “re-structuring” and emphasised that significant investment – about £400,000 – had been made since 2017, including the creation of three full-time and 12 part-time posts on the mental health and wellbeing teams.
She said: “We have also introduced an online mental health support programme, which works hand-in-hand with our dedicated advisers and therapists, to ensure support is available for all.”
‘Finding out you’ve failed all your classes is horrible’
Hannah Moles was in her third year of studying maths at the University of Strathclyde when she approached student services for help.
Not only had she failed her first set of exams but she was also caring for her grandmother who had dementia.
She said: “My brother and I were going over three times a week to make my gran dinner, get the shopping and keep her company.
“She was really lonely.”
Hannah said that when she wasn’t caring for her gran, working in a part-time job which paid for her flat, or sleeping, she’d be in the library trying to study.
“I was really tired and had things on my mind constantly,” she said.
“So I went along to support services to see if I could calm myself down. I wanted to improve my mental state before my next set of exams.”
Hannah said that eight weeks after approaching student services, she received her first counselling appointment.
However, by this point Hannah had failed her second round of exams – meaning she wouldn’t be allowed to return for the fourth year of her degree.
“Finding out you’ve failed all your classes is horrible especially when you have put in the work but it is still not enough,” she said.
Hannah said that she was grateful to her university for providing mental health support but more counsellors would help meet the increasing demand.
“I am lucky that I got the support I needed,” she said.
“But there are lots of students who seem to need help with their mental health. I just hope that universities can keep up with the increasing demand.”
’80 new counsellors’
The Scottish government’s most recent Programme for Government promised to provide more than 80 additional counsellors in further and higher education institutions over the next four years, with an investment of about £20m.
However, there is no indication yet how the funding will be split or which universities will receive more counsellors.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said every student “should have access to emotional and mental well-being support”.
“We will work closely with the university and college sectors, NUS Scotland and other partners, on the implementation of the additional counsellors, and to ensure an integrated and wrap-around approach to student wellbeing in higher and further education.”
Details of organisations offering information and support with mental health issues are available at bbc.co.uk/actionline, or you can call for free, at any time to hear recorded information on 0800 888 809.
A WEST of Scotland MSP has called for improved access to mental health services, particularly among young people
To mark World Mental Health Day last week, Labour’s Mary Fee lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament calling for greater support for people who need help with their mental health.
Ms Fee’s motion says every individual who experiences poor mental health should have access to well-funded and adequately resourced support services within their local communities.
It is estimated that one in four people in Scotland suffer from poor mental health.
This year’s annual theme for World Mental Health Day, that took place on October 10, is young people.
Research conducted by Stonewall Scotland in 2017 found that 58 per cent of lesbian, gay or bisexual pupils and 96 percent of transgender pupils have deliberately harmed themselves.
Ms Fee said: “It is important that politicians, public servants and public bodies help to raise the profile of mental health.
“I believe that in order to break the stigma around mental health we must widen the conversation and deepen our knowledge and understanding of the range of mental health issues that people may experience throughout their lives.
“I am unequivocal in my belief that mental health should be treated with the same priority as physical health.
“It is a scandal that nearly one-third of young people are waiting longer than 18 weeks for vital mental health treatment. It is simply unacceptable.”
In marking the 70th anniversary of the NHS, Scottish Labour outlined a 10-point plan in which they pledged to provide access to a mental health counsellor for every school pupil in Scotland and improve the access to crisis mental health services.
The Scottish Government has since promised to invest in extra mental health services in schools, though Ms Fee warned that any dilution of the pledge will cause greater difficulties for children and young people accessing much needed treatment and support.
Clydebank MSP Gil Paterson added:“Most families will have known of someone with a mental health problem who has kept it hidden.
“The Scottish Government have done a lot of work on raising awareness of mental health and tackling the stigma associated with it.
“This work has resulted in a lot more people coming forward for treatment and the Government recognises that this puts added demands on the service, which is why the SNP Government has allocated an extra £250 million for mental health services, which includes £60m for schools to support 350 counsellors and 250 extra school nurses so that every secondary school will have a counselling service.
“I have asked a series of questions at the parliament about exactly what has been done to support mental health services in the past and the Post will be first to know when I get the answers.”
More than 700 signatories have already backed the petition from Joanne Waddell, a parent and volunteer counsellor for the charity Place2Be, who fears there is a “deepening crisis” in children’s mental health in Scotland.
Supporters say that Scotland has limited counsellors with specific training in supporting children and young people, and that school-based counselling is available only to a small minority.
Ms Waddell said: “My own experience showed how powerful in-school counselling can be for children struggling with their mental health and the challenges of growing up in a 24-hour online world.
“Getting support at an early stage can help to avert children and young people reaching crisis points where costly and lengthy interventions might be needed. This service should be available in all schools and be provided for under national health policy, not something that schools have to provide through their hard-pressed education budgets.”
Teachers ‘can’t give pupils the time they need’
One primary teacher in the north-east of Scotland who supports the petition, and asked not to be named, said: “I can really see the value of having school-based counsellors.
“I have experienced children with mental health problems becoming disruptive in class because they are unable to fully understand or communicate how they are feeling. Often, just being able to talk this through allowed them to re-engage with their learning.
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “This petition is an opportunity for the Scottish government to recognise that young people’s mental health is still not being treated with the seriousness it deserves.
“The lives and wellbeing of countless young Scots are counting on a seismic shift in government policy.”
A Scottish government spokesman said: “We want every child and young person to have appropriate access to emotional and mental well-being support in school – our ambitious mental health strategy, launched last year, sets out clearly how we can improve early intervention, and ensure better access to services. The very first action commits us to a national review of counselling services in schools. We expect the results of thereview to inform any future work on school counsellors.”
He added: “Education authorities and all those working in our schools already have a responsibility to support and develop the mental wellbeing of pupils, with decisions on how to provide that support taken on the basis of local circumstances and needs. Some will provide access to school based counselling. Others will utilise the skills of pastoral care staff and liaise with the educational psychological services and health services for specialist support when required.”
The father of a young Dundee man who took his own life has welcomed the launch of a petition calling for a mental health crisis centre in the city.
Talented musician Lee Welsh died on August 8 last year. Now, almost a year after his death, a petition has been started in a bid to secure a 24/7 self-refer mental health crisis centre.
Since Lee’s death, his dad Phil has been campaigning for better mental health provision in Dundee under the banner Not in Vain for Lee.
Among his ideas is a crisis centre similar to one in Edinburgh. The centre in Edinburgh is funded by NHS Lothian, Edinburgh City Council and mental health charity Penumbra.
Phil said: “Something needs to change so people having a mental health crisis can have immediate access to support.”
The petition states: “As NHS Tayside reviews local mental health services, it must look to provide a new facility, offering emergency support 24 hours a day, seven days a week where people can self-refer.
“The crisis centre would provide access to counsellors and support in a home-like environment allowing people time and space to seek appropriate help.”
MSP Jenny Marra supports the campaign and said: “It would be designed to support the current system, which is too often unable to offer care quickly enough.”
Robert Packham, chief officer for Perth and Kinross Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “NHS Tayside provides support for people in Dundee in a mental health crisis 24-hours-a-day.
“The crisis intervention and home treatment service in Dundee assesses all psychiatric emergencies within office hours.
“Any person who attends Accident & Emergency in a mental health crisis would be seen by the liaison psychiatry service. There is also an emergency team based at Carseview Centre which operates out of hours.
“The nursing team is supported by on-call psychiatrists and sees people in crisis directly and referred from A&E.
“NHS Tayside has established an independent inquiry chaired by David Strang to review mental health services in Tayside.
“In the meantime, we are working with clinical, nursing and other staff to identify and act upon any areas which may benefit from improvement.”
NHS staff have been offered counselling to cope with the trauma of watching a BBC documentary criticising an under-fire mental health unit.
Experts have been put on standby to support doctors and nurses at the Carseview Centre, in Dundee , who may be adversely affected by the hard-hitting programme.
Last night relatives of young patients who either committed suicide or were bullied at the unit reacted furiously to the decision
One mum told us: “It’s one rule for one and one rule for another – what about support and counselling for relatives and family of those who died or were bullied there? There’s nothing for the real victims.”
The BBC Scotland programme – that aired last night – interviewed patients who alleged they’d been pinned to the floor and bullied on wards where illegal drugs were rife.
They claimed Carseview staff used face-down restraints violently and repeatedly over the past five years.
The centre has about 80 beds and is the biggest mental health unit in Tayside treating hundreds of patients every year.
It is the subject of an independent inquiry into mental health services after families of suicide victims campaigned for changes.
Last week NHS bosses sent an email offering support to any staff affected by the programme.
It said: “The BBC has advised us that they have spoken to 29 patients and families and the programme will contain patient testimonies which allege bullying, inappropriate use of restraint and widespread use and sale of illegal drugs.
“This is obviously going to be an upsetting time for staff and so the Mental Health Leadership team, along with staff side representatives, will be meeting with staff at Carseview over the coming days to discuss the programme and offer support to anyone who may be affected by this.”
It added that an expert from the Wellbeing Centre at the city’s Royal Victoria Hospital, would also be on hand to offer any “additional” support.
But last night Mandy McLaren and Jackie Hawes – whose sons Dale and Harry committed suicide while being treated by Carseview – demanded to know why victims’ relatives weren’t offered help.
Mandy said: “There has been nothing whatsoever for the families from NHS Tayside. All they’ve done is say sorry, pay expensive lawyers to defend FAIs and let us get on with it. Start doing your jobs properly and sort these issues out.”
While Jackie added: “We’ve had no support since Harry died, we’ve just been left to get on with it. It’s not fair. It’s fine to support the staff, but offer help to the grieving families too. “