Wellbeing editor, Chloe Payne-Cook, responds to the news that the university is investing an extra £1 million pounds into mental health services following the recent wellbeing review.
The university is pouring an additional £1 million into student mental health services, in the hope that the prevalent poor mental health conditions of many students will improve. Is £1 million really enough to prevent student suicides and to create a better support network for students who are struggling?
Last year, Bristol university tragically lost five of it’s students to suicide; an arguably preventable situation. It came as a huge shock to many, but rather disturbingly, such deaths also resonated with a large number of students, who were and still are suffering from ongoing mental health difficulties, such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Universities are a breeding ground for mental health illnesses, particularly Russell Group universities due to the high levels of stress piled onto students throughout the year. This expectancy of academic success arguably exacerbates mental health issues among the student population.
Additionally, universities can be isolating and exclusionary, especially to people within minority groups such as BME and LGBTQ+; making them a place where mental health problems can manifest and thrive. As somebody who has, at her worst, experienced suicidal thoughts, I want to look at whether the university is doing enough to prevent this.
There are a variety of ways in which the extra funding will be used in order to strengthen student services, namely by providing sessional student counsellors during times of peak demand (i.e. examination periods) and employing additional GPs within the students’ health service, whilst providing extended appointments.
As somebody who has had limited success with such services whilst being at the high risk side of mental health illness, it is difficult to believe that the introduction of a few extra counsellors during peak demand, will have an overwhelming impact on the wellbeing of students. However, it is, above anything else, a step in the right direction.
By far one of the most promising outcomes of the funding is the introduction of ‘student wellbeing advisors’, who are set to be present within every school. These advisors should be the first point of contact for a student who is struggling with their wellbeing or mental health. This should, in theory, elevate some of the pressure put onto personal tutors and other members of staff, who aren’t necessarily trained in how to respond appropriately when a student is showing signs of high-risk behaviour, or general mental health difficulties. These advisors will have close contact with other student services, such as the health and counselling services, meaning that they can get you the support you need, as urgently as you need it.
Above all, the wellbeing and health and student’s at university should be a priority, before academic success.
As somebody who has always found going to the ‘right place’ for help with their mental health challenging, the introduction of student wellbeing advisors sounds like a largely positive implementation into the lives of students. Yet, with the overwhelming amount of mental health problems being faced by students at university, is one advisor per school really going to be sufficient?
The concern for me is that this is another service which will be overloaded, and therefore struggle to provide the best mental health advice possible to the people who really need it, often desperately. It seems as though the measures being put in place this year, serve to strengthen the student service system, in order to provide more consistent help to students who are struggling; something which is crucially important when working with ongoing mental health problems.
However, there is still an emphasis placed on the academic success of students. Of course, many people who attend university want to gain as much as possible from they studies, and strive to achieve the best of their capabilities. But mental health conditions do not factor this in, when they affect somebodies life.
Depression does not lend time and energy to academic studies, neither does anxiety or eating disorders. Consequently, students who are dealing with such problems are unlikely to be achieving their best results, purely because of the crippling nature of mental health conditions. Above all, the wellbeing and health and student’s at university should be a priority, before academic success.
Fellow students who are suffering with mental health conditions, are unlikely to have much faith in a service which has previously failed so many of us.
It is simply the case that a student who is struggling with mental health illness, will not be able to lend their time to study fully, and therefore the university should be making every effort to help students with their wellbeing and health, before looking at their academic achievements. Far too often the trope of mental illness is that it is an entirely preventable problem which is always exacerbated by trivial factors such as lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet and a negative outlook (“you should just smile more”…). But mental health is a crippling condition, which cannot just be ‘cured’ with exercise and diet. It is an illness, and therefore should be treated as such.
It does look as though this funding will create a largely more supportive network and community for students to access, which is a hugely positive progression. As it is a process, these actions cannot be implemented immediately, and will undoubtedly take time to adjust to. Ultimately, the student services are encouraging students to work closely with their wellbeing advisors, personal tutors and specialist services, in order to prevent student suicides.
Bristol university to invest £1 million in wellbeing and mental health advisers for its students. As an academic and parent happy with that
— Dr Chloe (@DrChloeMitchell) September 28, 2017
However, it is fair to acknowledge that fellow students who are suffering with mental health conditions, are unlikely to have much faith in a service which has previously failed so many of us. Thus, the outcome of this funding remains to be seen, and will inevitably take a while to fall into place, but additional services and greater emphasis on the wellbeing of students is a progressive step towards managing the levels of poor mental health which is experienced within university populations.
Do you think the £1 million funding will make a difference to the wellbeing support available at Bristol? Comment below or get in touch!