Student mental health: universities need to work with the NHS

The BBC published an article regarding student mental health, reporting that students lack adequate mental healthcare and risk “slipping through the gaps” because the NHS and universities lack co-ordination. The most up-to-date records are from 2016 and show the number of student suicides that year was the highest total since 2006. Three Bristol students have died suddenly this month alone.

Attention to mental health has increased immensely over the past few years, with added focus placed on the younger generations. Students entering university go through a difficult transition. We are placed in new, high-pressure environments, with new social challenges, and are faced with issues that we may not have encountered before such as financial hardships. Many students also bring with them previous mental health issues which can be heightened in the university environment.

I had undiagnosed social anxiety before I went to university. I couldn’t eat in public without feeling nauseous and often cancelled plans with friends. After coming to university, these symptoms of my anxiety increased to the point where I would sit in my room in tears, unable to go downstairs to face a group of friends waiting to go out. It was at this point that I sought help and in doing so discovered the biggest failing when it comes to student mental health: getting help is nearly impossible. I was at home when I decided to get help and had to re-register with my GP there to even get an appointment two weeks later. When I was finally referred to a mental health service, I was told the wait would be three months before I could have an initial appointment. I also could not receive care from them as I was at university in a different city. I, therefore, had to wait until I came back to university in September, make a new appointment with my new GP after registering, and wait two weeks for that. I was then referred to a new mental health service and began receiving cognitive behavioural therapy a month later.

I had begun my quest for help in May. I only received help in October.

For those who may be feeling anxious or depressed, or finding themselves requiring help for their mental health, having the motivation and self-determination to spend months pursuing adequate healthcare can be a challenge, if nearly impossible. We are faced with the NHS’s lack of staff and funding every day, yet university wellbeing centres offer little support. It took weeks to try and get an appointment with my university’s wellbeing centre, were near impossible to get hold of, and I only heard from them once, in my Fresher’s Week. The centre is evidently understaffed, yet the university made a profit last year. It is clearly not underfunded.

In addition, at no point was the university informed of my struggles or external treatment. No connection is made between universities and mental healthcare which would allow for wellbeing centres, such as the one on our campus, to reach out to students who need or have needed help in the past. Struggles at university can often heighten or make us aware of our mental health issues. There needs to be communication between the two groups. I think what is also ignored is that those who may need help are not necessarily capable of reaching out. Asking us to ask for help will only do so much.

Wellbeing centres should continuously reach out to students throughout their degrees; there should be more communication between healthcare departments and universities, and students also need flexibility when it comes to who they can see. We often spend many months at home between terms and need access to continuous mental healthcare or at least the option to seek it. Ultimately, the system needs an overall change to stop students from slipping through the cracks.

Universities are worried about pulling up a generation through education; they mustn’t fail it by ignoring our personal challenges.

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