Students in the UK with mental health problems are having to wait up to 12 weeks (three months) for help from their universities. It’s a reality that has prompted fears that some may take their own lives during the delay.
Figures collected by British universities show that students at the Royal College of Music had the longest waits for counselling last year, with one having to wait 84 days for support. The University of Plymouth was second when it came to waiting times last year and had one case where a student had to wait 66 days. However, the university stressed that affected students had been offered earlier appointments.
Sir Norman Lamb, the ex-health minister and mental health campaigner who obtained the data under freedom of information laws, said such delays were unacceptable and that universities were failing their students by making them wait so long for support with conditions like depression and anxiety.
“Twelve-week delays to start counselling are scandalous, particularly when we know that so many students are taking their own lives,” he said. “That’s longer than a university term.”
Funding cuts are compounding the issue
While some universities, such as Bristol, Kingston and Sussex, are spending more than £1 million a year on wellbeing services, including student counselling, one in four institutions have actually cut or frozen their student mental health budgets.
Of the 110 universities that responded to Lamb’s request, many admitted they did not even know how much they spent on supporting student mental health. Meanwhile, only a handful could provide data on how long their students were having to wait for counselling.
The findings come as hundreds of thousands of young people across the UK are preparing to venture off to university and start a degree course – many living away from home for the first time in their lives.
These individuals are at a vulnerable age and most will be paying high fees, which is why they should absolutely expect their universities to provide mental health support and uphold their duty of care.
More support needed amid rising student mental ill-health
Student mental ill-health has reportedly risen five-fold since 2010, with one in five (22%) students diagnosed with a mental health-related illness and 34% struggling with another kind of psychological issue requiring professional help.
Moreover, 45% of students use alcohol or recreational drugs as a means of coping with their problems, with one in 10 saying they do this often or always.
Responding to Lamb’s findings, a spokesperson for Universities UK, the representative organisation for the UK’s universities, said they could not deal with the issue of mental health alone. They added that more effective mental health care should be provided by the NHS and that is something both parties are working on together to implement.
Lamb is calling for universities to be bound by a legal charter that sets out minimum standards they are required to meet, which will provide extra reassurance for parents.
It is obvious that, in many ways, life is extremely pressurised and stressful for university students today. But this is not just caused by the demands of academic life or the lack of support from universities. It is equally simplistic to say that this is all due to increased tuition fees and the pressures they put on students to succeed academically, so they can then go on to get a good job.
The vast majority of students have a largely positive experience at university, although at times they will face very difficult and distressing periods.
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