It’s no secret that mental health problems have been on the rise. Students are some of the worst affected, with at least one in four students facing some sort of mental health problem at some point during their time at university. This is five times more than ten years ago. Whilst all universities have some form of student counselling service, the question remains. Is enough being done, and fast enough?
The cause of this huge growth is not completely clear however it is obvious that stress plays a key role; over 60% of students state that they feel it interferes with their daily lives according to The Guardian. This is reflected through a 10% increase in drop-out rates in the last three years alone with ‘poor mental health’ cited as the reason. Starting at university can be scary, especially when moving away from home. Combine this with financial worries and the pressure of large workloads and it’s no wonder that students mental health can decline rapidly. When this happens it’s important that support is on hand immediately.
Unfortunately, it’s this area where universities are really falling short. All unis have some form of counselling service which anyone can access. Yet a recent study by Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has revealed that a large number of universities have waiting times of over a month for an initial appointment, with the longest being Bristol at 43.5 days – over half a semester. Once accessed these services have limited resources and often cannot offer the in-depth, personal support needed. Lamb has called for universities to take responsibility for their students calling the current system ‘an unacceptable postcode lottery’. As part of this study 110 universities were asked for information regarding waiting times, budgets and student feedback yet over three quarters were unable to respond. Over the past three years thirteen students are believed to have taken their own lives at Bristol university with figures rising across the country as a whole. Universities need to drastically increase their commitment to this important issue as the current system poses a huge risk to students well-being and lives.
However, it’s not just the universities, young people often tend to fall through the cracks between the University and the NHS. For those who go to university with an existing problem, it is not a simple transition as students have to re-register at a new GP and wait for the transfer of records from one to another. Speaking from personal experience this is disheartening and only makes it that much more difficult to seek help, something which is already hard to do. Again, waiting times are an issue with one in ten waiting over a year and over 50% waiting over three to access just an initial appointment. This means that a number of students end up trying medication. Whilst this can, and does, work for many people it often comes which a whole host of side effects including insomnia, nausea and increased anxiety. This in turn makes it difficult to attend university and can exacerbate issues further as students fall further and further behind – often leading to them dropping out.
So, what options do students have? In Leeds you can self-refer to either the University itself or the NHS IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Services) which aim to provide counselling for anyone struggling with a mental health problem. There are also free helplines such as Nightline which provides a confidential listening and information service run by student volunteers, this is totally anonymous and a good way to open up. Another option is websites such as Big White Wall and Mind Well which offer 24/7 anonymous information and support from trained counsellors to help improve your mental health and wellbeing. The Union also offers regular groups and workshops which aim to increase mindfulness and reduce stress.
The current system of both the NHS and universities fails students on their mental health, and something needs to be done about it quickly. In an age where the previous stigma surrounding mental health has reduced drastically, it’s high time the care provided matches this.
Nightline – 01133801285
Mindwell – https://www.mindwell-leeds.org.uk
Big White Wall – http://bigwhitewall.com