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2nd October 2016

Does mental health matter to universities?

Mental health is a subject which is receiving much more attention than before. But are universities taking it as seriously as the rest of us?

With almost daily news about mental health services at universities not meeting the demands of their students, there is concern that the well-being of young people at university is not being treated as the growing problem that it is. According to the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), depression and loneliness affect one in three students, whilst suicide rates are increasing.

This can be put down to a number of things; with the introduction of high tuition fees, not to mention the changing terms and conditions of student loans, pressure is mounting on students to achieve more than before in order to compete with their peers, and secure jobs to pay off large debts. This is combined with a pressure to present a front to the outside world—with the importance of social media in our day to day, we are expected to look like we are always having the time of our lives, which for a lot of us isn’t a reality.

However, help is not always available as readily as it should be. Although universities offer counselling services, they often fall short of what people actually need, with a report by HEPI finding that a lot of universities need to triple the funding to mental health services. Research by The Tab found that the University of Manchester budget for counselling only allows for £53 to be spent on each student over the course of their degree, and is ranked 14th out of 30 universities in the study; suggesting that the problem is nationwide.

As well as this, the process of asking for help can be daunting to many. To use the University of Manchester counselling service, students need to fill in an online questionnaire before booking an appointment, and their problem is assigned a colour according to how severe it is deemed to be. Next you need to ring the counselling service to book the appointment, where you may be asked questions in order to determine the help you need. For some this is challenging in itself, with one student saying: “The first time I rang, they bluntly asked if I had thought about killing myself, and as I had found the question quite crude and off-putting, I put the phone down and didn’t try again”.

Clearly this is a problem that needs to be addressed. The well-being of students should be at the top of the list of priorities for universities, not pushed to the sidelines until it becomes too big an issue to ignore. With more focus on supporting students from the start, rather than waiting until a problem needs to be solved, mental health can be tackled before a concern becomes a crisis.

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