Supporting Student Services: Something to Bear in Mind

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KATHERINE ILLSLEY

University is an incredible time for us all. The parties, the lie-ins, the freedom.  The chance to study what you love, then go to the pub. It’s a special kind of heaven.

But, when the dust settles on your hang over, or the deadlines come rolling in, difficulties can arise which for many are all the more problematic to deal with because of university life itself. In a time where jobs are disappearing, whilst learning is at its priciest yet, universities have become an epicentre for mental health difficulties.

More than half of students with mental health difficulties don’t approach anyone 

Figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal that within the last four years, the number of student suicides has doubled in women and risen by over a third in men, whilst the NUS discovered that a total of 20% of all UK students now experience mental health difficulties.  In order to meet the massive demand for student support, the amount of institutions possessing mental health policies went from 27% in 2003 to 85% today, a positive and essential development.  However, this increase in services clashed horribly with major funding cuts within the mental health sector. £600 million has disappeared over the duration of the last government, leaving a situation which chief executive of the Mental Health Network, Stephen Dalton, called “a car crash.”

This “car crash” has left staff and resources at student support services slashed, resulting in a damaging blow to their image. This year, the Equality Challenge Unit discovered more than half of students with mental health difficulties hadn’t approached anyone about getting help, because they felt they would not receive the support that they need.

Universities have become an epicentre for mental health difficulties

Indeed, when I personally contacted a university support service after a difficult term ended in *oh god* seeing the enclosed reindeers at the Snow Ball as a metaphor for myself, drinking around thirty shots of mince pie flavoured vodka and crying on a security guard, I had to wait three weeks just for a telephone referral. By the time they rang, I lost my nerve and decided not to pursue their help. Aside from the personal impact that not providing the optimum level of service causes, it is set in stone by the UUK/GuildHE Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Group in their definitive ‘Good Practice Guide’, that “institutions will need to ensure that they have in place effective and robust arrangements, policies and procedures for managing students with mental health difficulties”. They risk violating the Health and Safety at Work, Equality, and Human Rights Acts if they don’t. It’s kind of a big deal.

Externally, the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), a life line for many students meeting expenses caused by long term mental health conditions, has been largely reduced since January. Also, with mass university medical centre closure, and the likelihood of the minimum practice income guarantee (MIPG) that keeps many local GP practices in service being phased out, referrals to doctors following support consultations are becoming a battle.

In March, an extra £1.25 billion was announced to be included in the budget for supporting youth mental health services over the next five years. The Conservatives have pledged to stick to this, but there is a large amount of scepticism within the field over whether or not it will actually be implemented correctly. As students, I feel it is our duty to also keep an eye on the situation. We need improvements, now, as a matter of urgency. The statistics don’t lie.

In the meantime, if you feel that you or someone you know would like a little extra support, go to http://www.fxplus.ac.uk/study/student-support-services/counselling for more information.

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