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.
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 reports after news reports 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 to 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 their 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 concern.
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 what 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 on-going 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 their 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.