Mental Health Problems are Rife in the UK, are Universities Failing Their Students?
There’s an epidemic sweeping the UK education sector, it’s a mental health crisis.
Mental health problems are often impossible to avoid. Once seen as a sign of weakness, witchcraft and other horrifying associations, mental health is now, finally, a talking point for many people, many of whom do suffer from mental health and other associated conditions themselves. A mental health problem is just as serious as any other physical ailment, therefore, it’s important that we react to news such as this recent headline published by the BBC:
According to new studies, more students than ever are attempting to seek mental health support whilst at University. Many of them aren’t getting the help they need and the results are frankly terrifying.
It’s pretty clear to see how young adults transitioning to University might be at risk of developing mental health problems. Stress, anxiety and depression are all common ‘side effects’ of the advanced study, independence and time management that University expects of you. Tie this in with the fact most students have moved out of home for the first time, and that most don’t have a lot of money, what you have is a boiling pot for mental health problems.
The BBC has carried out a study across a number of the UK’s Universities in order to determine a true figure that represents the number of students that are turning to their Universities for further mental health support. According to their study and their findings, between the years 2016 – 2017, almost 80,000 students turned to their University for support. This is up massively, from a figure of around 50,000 as recorded between 2012 – 2013.
What does this mean?
We have to ask, is this a significant finding? Perhaps this figure has increased, as more students are going to University than ever before?
Well, according to The Guardian, in April 2018 (after this years admission deadlines) applications to go to University has fallen by 11,000. According to The Guardian report:
“Applications to go to university in the UK this autumn are down by 11,000 on last year despite a surge in interest from overseas students, according to figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas). The overall decline of 2% is explained largely by the fact there are fewer 18-year-olds in the population available to go to university. However, there has also been a sharp drop in the number of older students applying to go to university, in particular, to study nursing, which has seen a 10% decline in applications on last year.”
Maybe, you could argue that this figure is up significantly because more people are now willing to talk about mental health problems, simply because mainstream society now sees it as normal and that thankfully a lot of stigma has now been removed from talking about mental health, partially thanks to social media?
Realistically though, ask yourself this, does that explain a rise of almost 30,000 people in 3 – 4 years? No, it doesn’t.
What this means is that more people are suffering from mental health problems at University. This is not because they are more open to talking about it, this is because more people are being affected by problems surrounding the entire University culture. Higher fees, higher grade expectations and greater pressure from external authorities make University a difficult and stressful place to be. This is having an impact on students and therefore, this is down to a failure from the UK education sector, a sector that only seems to be in this for financial gain.
According to the BBC research, one student referred to as ‘Will’ has spoken out about their experiences of suffering mental health problems whilst at University:
“Will had gone to university feeling ‘quite positive’ but found his mental health deteriorated during the first term. He admitted things had been tough, being away from his family, and because he had not immediately ‘found his feet’ by joining societies and making friends. Will said the idea of seeking help with mental health issues was not easy.”
“On the university mental health counselling website, there is a form you fill out that ranks your answers from not at all to very likely – there are a lot of very triggering questions. But it felt like almost immediately you opened it there’s less of a chance you are going to get in because there will be people filling it in as ‘likely’ for every single thing.”
Will then received no further communication for two months, before he was eventually denied counselling by the University. Thankfully, this is something that Will was able to recover from, however, Will does believe that this has presented an issue that needs to be addressed:
“I’m feeling better now but was definitely in a worse place after the experience of not getting help. It’s something the uni needs to focus on… and make more personal.”
Furthermore, another student referred to as ‘Kayleigh’ has also spoken out about her experience when trying to refer a friend to their Universities counselling services:
“A friend of mine was suicidal at uni. We got him referred to the university counselling service but he was on a long waiting list. They suggested he talk to a tutor and maybe if he’d done that he would have got counselling sooner but he was so stressed about the course that he didn’t want to. It was really hard to get anyone to take any notice.”
“One night he was threatening suicide, I took him to A&E and they sent him home. I didn’t know what to do so my mum sent the vice chancellor a very angry email, basically saying, if he dies, it’s on your hands. The next day, uni mental health services got in touch and referred him to an emergency external counselling service. He ended up dropping out and is much healthier and happier but the uni really should have dealt with it better. Especially since Bristol is in the news about high suicide rates – he could very easily have been another.”
Is this what it takes, to get Universities to listen?
Why do the Universities seem so unresponsive?
Firstly, I must highlight that the BBC research referred to does only mention two experiences from two students at two different Universities so of course, this is not representative of the entire education sector. However, it resonates the problem that seems to be all over the news at the moment – University students just aren’t getting the support they need.
Many refer to a lack of funding, this is something that seems to extend outside of Universities too, as a matter of fact, mental health services across the NHS in the UK are horrendously under-funded too. Universities are indeed underfunded, but, is this an issue of a lack of funding from a government level, or, is this an issue of how the Universities are choosing to allocate their funds?
And, how do we resolve this?
That’s a question that can only be addressed on an institutional level really. However, what we can remember is this – if we help each other, look out for our family, our friends and our peers, we can at the very least help support those who are in need of further mental help support whilst at work, school, University and anywhere else, whilst we wait for the services to free up the space needed to help address the growing demand for counselling and therapy.
If you are struggling with your mental health, you can contact:
Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and Ireland) – 24 hours
Papyrus free on 0800 0684141 or text 07786209697 if you’re under 35
YoungMinds Crisis Messenger text YM to 85258