Tomorrow is University Mental Health Day, which reminded me of an experience I had whilst attending university. Two years ago I crashed into a suicidal state whilst at university, and largely due to the university, its staff, and its policies. So it got me thinking, are universities doing enough to support their students’ mental health? Does your university support you?
I know that my current university has a few things in place, but none of them is appropriate for my mental health problems. They only offer short intervention counselling, which is about 12 sessions. Which isn’t even enough time to make a start on my mental health issues.
A Universities UK report highlighted just how badly our universities are letting down our students, due to the poor mental health support that’s on offer. In 2016 alone, 146 students took their own lives at UK universities (BBC).
In 2016 alone, 146 students took their own lives at UK universities, the BBC reports Click To Tweet
According to the Office of National Statistics, the rate of higher education students taking their own lives in the 12 months ending in July 2017 in England and Wales was 4.7 per 100,000 students or 95 suicides.
I also thought I’d take a look at one of the UK’s universities that has repeatedly made the news in relation to student suicides over the last few years: the University of Bristol.
Background Of The University Of Bristol
For those of you who might not be aware of the news covering the University of Bristol, here’s a quick summary.
ITV reported that students at the University of Bristol wait three times longer than the national average to access mental health services. Freedom of Information (FoI) Act statistics state that the average wait is 15.7 days. Whereas the average waiting time at the University of Bristol was 52 days between 2018/2019.
On 21st November 2018, the BBC reported on a student demonstration at the University of Bristol calling for more mental health support for students, amid an ongoing mental health crisis that was gripping the university. They further reported that in the previous 18 months, 11 students at the University of Bristol took their own lives.
However, The Guardian puts this figure at 12 known or suspected suicides by students at the University of Bristol since September 2016.
In the space of a month alone, at the University of Bristol, three students have taken their own lives, according to the BBC.
The current figure (at the time of writing this post) for the University of Bristol is 13 students who’ve taken their own lives at the university in the last three years (Independent).
A coroner reported that a student at the University of Bristol took their own life, in part, due to the neglect of their Mental Health Trust. The parents of the student also blamed the University of Bristol for failing to put appropriate measures and support in place, after knowing 6 months previously that the student was struggling with their mental health (BBC and The Guardian).
When I first became aware of these statistics, I was shocked. I saw news report after news report of students at the University of Bristol taking their own lives. What could possibly be going on at this university that seemed to be causing such a mental health crisis for so many students? This thought has stayed with me ever since, and after my own experience, I thought I’d see just what kind of support universities offered, especially the University of Bristol.
University Of Bristol’s Support Services
It seems only fair if I’m going to talk about the University of Bristol‘s seemingly unusual student mental health crisis, that I should also look at the support they actually offer.
On the face of it, it looks like the University of Bristol has a lot of different avenues of support set up at their university. But having not been a student at the University of Bristol, and thus, never being able to use any of their support services, I can’t really comment on if they live up to their claims or fulfil their purposes.
Like most institutions, they have their mindfulness section which is aimed to help. But more often than not, this is often used as a way to avoid giving real and needed support. However, that actually doesn’t seem to be the case with the University of Bristol. At least not from what I could see from the support they claim to offer.
The university also offers a list of self-help resources, with each listed category having their own links to external resources, apps, blogs, online resources, books, etc. you could use to help support yourself.
A link to an online, non-crisis service is also listed on the university’s website, called Big White Wall. The Big White Wall is a 24/7 anonymous peer support community which is moderated by trained professionals. The community is for people who are stressed, anxious, low, or struggling to cope.
Your personal tutors are people you can talk to in relation to your studies and study support. They will give you advice on how to manage your studies and extracurricular activities, as well as signposting you to other help, advice, and support services.
Student Wellbeing Advisers
Student wellbeing advisers are a team of supporters that are attached to each academic school, which aim to offer non-clinical but professional help and guidance if you’re struggling and/or need extra support.
Residential Life Advisers
The university’s residential accommodation is split into three different villages, each with its own residential life advisers. Unlike the student wellbeing advisers team, this team is a 24/7 support network that offers support for any concerns or worries you may have.
New Prevention Scheme
Last year, according to The Times and the Independent, the University of Bristol introduced a new suicide prevention scheme, whereby they’ll contact the parents of any student that has been flagged as being of concern. The scheme has a sign-up rate of 94% of the student population so far. Furthermore, in its first year, the new prevention scheme has contacted the parents of 36 students to alert them of their concerns.
The counselling service the university offers isn’t ideal. By the look of it, you’ll definitely get at least the initial assessment 50-minute session. However, it doesn’t state how long you’ll have to wait for that first counselling session. Furthermore, all the follow-up sessions are booked one session at a time. This means that you’re always going to be stuck wondering when your sessions will be stopped, without notice.
The information provided also fails to state the maximum number of sessions you’re able to have. But I did see elsewhere on their site that the counselling service is referred to as “short term counselling”. Thus, if it’s anything like my university, then this kind of counselling support wouldn’t be enough for someone with ongoing and chronic mental health problems. Such a service is better suited for only helping people who are struggling to adjust to university life.
They do talk about having group therapy available as well. However, they don’t give any real information about this. Plus, there’s no information on how frequent they are or if they’re split by different support needs.
I hope all these services will turn around the recent mental health crisis that’s hit the University of Bristol. Because everyone, not just students, deserves to get the support they need for their mental health and wellbeing.
The University of Bristol appears to offer far more support for its students than my university currently does. Obviously, I don’t know how good the services are that the University of Bristol offers. Nor do I know if all the services they do offer were available before their current mental health crisis.
But what I do know, as it stands today, is that they offer more support options than the university I currently attend. A university that was partly to blame for my lapse into a suicidal state which I hadn’t found myself in for some 14 years.
The Initial Session Dilemma
Like a lot of mental health services within the UK, they try to fudge the statistics by showing how quickly you’ll get the first appointment, the initial appointment. But then, any subsequent appointment could be months away. I know with my Mental Health Trust, I’ve been on a waiting list for a year after my initial appointment before I actually started therapy. But then I’ve not had the best of luck with my Mental Health Trust (Taking Antidepressants And Being Forced To Go Cold Turkey, My Experience Of Being In One-To-One Schema Therapy, My Experience Of Being In Group Therapy: Part 1, and My Experience Of Being In Group Therapy: Part 2).
Fudging the statistics like this doesn’t help anyone, it just allows the government to make false claims about how seriously they’re taking our mental health services. When in reality, people are suffering and even dying because they’re not getting treatment in time. Instead, they have their hopes up thinking that the quick access to the initial appointment will mean they’ll start treatment soon after. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What Could Universities Do Better?
Now isn’t that the million-dollar question? Given that universities are basically boarding schools for young adults (at least for most of the first year), they really should offer more support. They’re essentially a transitioning point between living at home with your family and stepping out into the world as an independent adult. So maybe universities need to take that role more seriously.
Personally, I think long-term counselling support would have helped me. I also believe other students with chronic mental health problems would also benefit from such support.
I’m not sure what else they could do differently besides offering some sort of long-term mental health support. What do you think universities could do to better support their students?
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences of university life, how university affected your mental health, and your thoughts on your university’s mental health support services in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
39 thoughts on “University Mental Health Support: Is It Enough?”
I definitely believe that more money and time should be invested into mental health support and resources for those at university. During my time at university, I definitely noticed the impact this can have on students mental health.
Mental health services could do with a sizable financial boost across the board
Couldn’t agree more!
Another good post by you. It is sad to know about British universities students suffering from mental health issue. I used to studied in UK too for two years, and I agree with you that universities aren’t helping students much with mental health problems.
It is a real shame. It’d be interesting to see how they compare to universities in other countries
This is a great post, thanks for bringing more awareness to this issue. We definitely need to develop these programs more and need to fund them better. They’re essential to so many.
Indeed they are
This is such an important topic. Thank you for bringing more awareness to this. Posts like this will help promote changes and improvements to the current systems they have in place.
We can only hope
I think money should be put into mental health resources. And just general support for everyone. X
I second that
This is such an important post! Thank you for building awareness for mental health. Too many people don’t get the help they need or feel like there is no point 🙁 there is a point though and hopefully this post will help boost awareness and improve the way things are done
We can only hope
I definitely think that more resources should be put into developing University mental health support more!
It’s so sad to read about the high suicide rate, but great that you are using your blog to raise awareness of the issue and suggest improvements. I think mental health resources should be widely available to uni students as studying can be such a stressful time, with the pressures, deadlines, exams, being away from home, financial worries, and so on. It can be a very tough time and support should be easily accessed by everyone. Thanks for sharing, really interesting and important post! <3 xx
Bexa | http://www.hellobexa.com
In an ideal world, students would be fully supported in their pursuit of education
This university seems to be doing more than many. I feel that many fear that a visit to a mental health counselor at school will somehow follow them in a way they don’t want it to; it loses it anonymity if it’s connected to your education/career
Is that something that actually happens in your country?
I attend Edge Hill University and I actually have fantastic support, thankfully. I’m very lucky and grateful for the support I get. I have meetings every 2 weeks (if I want to) and they even made a suicide safety plan with me. <3
That’s great that you feel supported, are the fortnightly meetings on offer with a trained counselor or with some sort of university student support staff member?
Reading this, my university actually seemed to have pretty good mental health support – for me anyway (I can’t speak on behalf of other students). I don’t remember how long I had to wait to see someone but I had ongoing counselling sessions for two years – it was leaving Uni that was the big shock, knowing I wouldn’t able to easily access that same kind of support!
It really sucks that more universities aren’t like that. So many areas of society are underfunded for mental health services, and with suicide rates increases it begs the question, what has to happen for that to change.
I really hope you manage to get the support you need to feel better. Sending you all the support in the world!
Two years of counseling? That’s sounds like a really good university. I can’t even get two years from my Mental Health Trust
I agree wholeheartedly with what you said about universities being the gateway between living dependently with your family and independently as an adult, and that they should take this role more seriously when it comes to protecting and supporting their students’ mental health. A very well-researched article!
Thank you ?
There was so much valuable information here. Thank you for bringing awareness to this issue. It certainly is an issue in so many places. I have found that even if places offer some resources there is typically no follow up for people. This is where they can get “lost in the cracks”. Hopefully with people like you bringing awareness to this problem, there will be more opportunities to come up with more solutions.
I fear that that’s still not going to be enough to get the real changes needed
Awareness is key to change, and putting aside the foolish pride I know I have in order to ask for help is a great way to leave depression behind! I smiled at your creative analogy of universities being boarding schools for young adults. 🙂
That is such a stressful time in life. I remember how rough nursing school was and how many people went in search of help. There is a huge mental health problem in the world and university is a great time to reach people who need help. Hopefully schools and universities can find a way to reach more people.
With the amount of money these universities charge us, they definitely should be putting more into the wellbeing of their students
While I’m glad to see some universities making shifts in a positive direction by offering more services and pushing for mental health as a priority (assuming, of course, that these services work as well in practice as promised), I think we’re still a long way from reaching a solution. There is SO much work still to do in the world of mental health – baby steps forward are great, we’re moving in the right direction, here’s hoping this is just the start of a much bigger journey.
Indeed.Often there is a disconnect between the services offered and how useful they are in practice, unfortunately
As someone who deals with mental health issues, as an adult and probably did in less of a way at university. The life of a student means you can step out of it easily, and become isolated as there is not much you have to do. Which means you can become isolated and have no support very quickly.
So true. I ended up skipping a lot of my undergraduate degree as I struggled with daily psychotic breaks. When you’ve also traveled half way across the country to attend uni, alone, it is easy to become lonely, isolated, and depressed.
More thought, money and provisions should definitely be given to universities to assist their students and faculty. I was very lucky to have had some beneficial on-site therapy after having a very traumatic health issue that I had to work through. Access to it was very easy but knowledge that it was there as an option was not so readily available. Hopefully some proper oversight and funding will improve what is on offer.
Unfortunately universities are run like businesses, so they won’t want to spend money to offer that kind of needed support unless they feel they have to
I really hope universities can improve their support for students. And how can the culture be more supportive and less intimating for someone to seek help? The stress nowadays is immense for students. Thanks for discussing on this topic!
Yeah, universities really need to step up, especially with everything that’s happened over the last 18 months or so