By Ed Southgate, co-Editor in Chief
The University has committed to improving provision of and availability for counselling and CBT following a four-week consultation in which 200 students provided feedback on mental health support.
The University's Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy, which went live last week, promises that the Student Counselling Service will grow in line with planned student growth.
It will also explore ways to reduce waiting times, increase flexibility for the availability of sessions, and to increase the availability of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
This will be seen as a win for the organisers of last term's March For Mental Health, in which one main demand was to increase funding for counselling services, cut the waiting lists and to uncap the number of sessions available to any one student.
Epigram / Ed Southgate
A further commitment likely to be welcomed is the promise to 'actively seek opportunities to reduce the cost of living for students, including considering rent, transport and the cost of studying'.
A Bristol study recently linked the cost of private-rented accommodation with increased stress, and the University has frequently come under fire from Bristol Cut The Rent, who campaign to reduce the cost of university-owned halls.
They argue that the current rent prices - averaging at £161 per week - escalate wellbeing concerns. The group co-hosted the March for Mental Health, demanding that 50 per cent of all beds should be at 50 per cent of the maximum maintenance loan, and will present an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor to add further pressure for their demands to be met.
The strategy covers areas of Leadership, Transitions, Prevention, Early Intervention, Support, Staff, Partnerships and Data and Research.
It promises to increase engagement with students throughout the admission process to ease the transition into university life and to maximise opportunities for students to disclose pre-exisiting conditions.
Among a number of other commitments, the University says it will also introduce free programmes of activity during exam seasons, it will investigate systems for identifying students withdrawing from engagement activities, and it will establish a Mental Health Research Network.
Partnerships with the NHS, UUK, Bristol City Council, Papyrus and others will also be maintained.
Epigram / Ed Southgate
The strategy follows the University's Suicide Prevention and Response Plan last term, which aims to train all students and staff, including cleaners and caretakers, in suicide awareness.
This academic year, a new initiative gave students the chance to 'opt-in' to allow the University to contact a named carer if they are concerned about their mental health. Almost all students - 94 per cent - signed up.
Previously, Data Protection Laws meant that contacting the parents of struggling students was a legal grey area.
Vanessa Wilson, Bristol SU Student Living Officer, has welcomed the strategy but remains firm that there is still more to do. 'In particular', she said in a statement, 'we’re going to keep pushing the University to prioritise mental health training for senior and personal tutors. To complement this we’re looking at how we can roll out mental health first aid training or similar to all Bristol students.'
Mental health, she assured, 'will remain at the top of the University of Bristol and Bristol SU’s agendas'.
Bristol SU has launched a variety of smaller, light-hearted initiatives to support student wellbeing, many of which have taken place in the new SU Living Room. Plant-potting and mindfulness have been available each day, and last week the officers handed out bananas to boost energy levels during exam revision.
The SU came under fire from environmentally-conscientious students after it was revealed that one initiative involved handing out bubble wrap to pop. It was later confirmed that this bubble wrap was reused from various items that arrived for the Living Room.
Featured Image: Epigram / Ed Southgate