Are unis giving students long-term solutions to mental health issues?

Increasing numbers of students are seeking out mental health services at university (Getty Images/PA)
Increasing numbers of students are seeking out mental health services at university

 

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.”

 

 

Link to Belfast Telegraph article here 

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Lib Dem leader hails “inspiring” Angus councillor as Tayside mental health documentary goes live

 

Cllr Ben Lawrie, seated, and documentary director Stuart Burns before the showing of their film A Confession Of Depression at Monifieth High School.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has hailed what he believes could be a life-saving Tayside documentary.

Monifieth and Sidlaw Lib Dem councillor Ben Lawrie has been working on a documentary called “A Confession of Depression” over the past couple of years with Dundee filmmaker Stuart Burns.

The documentary is now on YouTube following a screening at Monifieth High School for the people that were involved in the production.

Mr Rennie said: “Ben Lawrie has opened up about his experiences with mental health in order to help others.

“It’s a very generous and inspiring act which could save lives.

“People with poor mental health deserve better than the service they receive from the NHS and other public services.

“I know Ben’s campaign will make a difference on that front too.

“I am proud to have Ben as a Liberal Democrat councillor and one that is so effective at standing up for people.”

Ben Lawrie (right) interviewing Willie Rennie for his documentary.

Mr Lawrie, a fourth-year psychology student at St Andrews University, said he hopes the documentary about his mental health journey will assure others going through similar difficulties “that they are not alone”.

He attempted to take his own life in 2013 as he struggled with depression while studying at Dundee College, despite doing well in his coursework and being in a happy relationship

Mr Lawrie, who is now undergoing private counselling and taking medication to help him through the dark days, was elected to Angus Council in 2017 and has continued to speak openly about his struggles since taking up the post.

He said: “We started producing it based on the blog where I originally went public with my struggles with mental health but we’ve used it as a platform to talk to various groups and charities about their experiences too and to promote the services        that are on offer.

“We’ve spoken to groups like Nightline and Student Services at the University of St Andrews so I’m hoping that young people who will be starting university soon will watch this and find out about what support mechanisms will be in place for them to draw upon when they go to university.

“Hopefully, hearing the stories of myself and others who have lived with mental illness will show others going through the same that they are not alone and they don’t have to suffer in silence.”

 

 

Link to The Courier article here 

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