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Do the mental health budget 2018 figures go far enough?

Support: Cardiff University offers fantastic student support, but this is a much bigger problem. Source: Alisa Anton (via Unsplash)

By Angharad May

Unjust disparity between mental and physical health provision is far from secret, thus recent figures revealing an extortionate increase in university students experiencing mental health difficulties is merely one reason why additional mental health funding promised in the 2018 Autumn Budget is more vital than ever before.

Cardiff University has a healthy Student Support offering a plethora of services for mental health needs, from Counselling and Wellbeing to Disability and Dyslexia and beyond. Having turned to them myself whilst very unwell, I cannot fault the empathetic, positive and encouraging team who guide students to appropriate services and promote hope that academic success is indeed possible for those struggling through university with debilitating mental health conditions. Furthermore, the Centre for Student Life currently under construction is set to accommodate additional support systems, including 24-hour online services which are highly likely to be a lifeline to students at times of desperate need in the solitary depths of the night.

Cardiff University’s innovation, unfortunately, is not the case at every university as recent findings have revealed. Just a stone’s throw away, Bristol University may be facing an investigation into its pastoral care after 11 recent student deaths, suspected to be the result of suicide. Even more tragic, some of those students had purportedly reached out for help prior to their death; facing a lack of support, an increasing number of sufferers feel suicide is the only answer to ending the torture of mental pain from which there seems no other hope of escape.

As a consequence of this disturbing number of deaths, a freedom of information request followed, and the figures obtained from Bristol University alone are alarming. Around 11% of the campus population are recorded as having mental health difficulties, equating to a rise of 154% since 2012 when only around 5% faced these same issues. This increase has corresponded to a subsequent 44% surge in demand for the university’s counselling service since 2014. Students like myself also require specialist services outside of the university; taking this into account, the figures are quite probably much higher. The most startling figure released from Bristol University is that of disabled students with mental health difficulties. There has been an extortionate rise of 349% of disabled students who also present with comorbid mental health problems. This worrying data is just from one British university; the bigger picture is likely to be grimmer.

The Government first sought for parity between mental and physical health services in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and it is fair to suggest that little has been achieved by 2018. The aforementioned statistics speak for themselves. Theresa May has declared that funding for the NHS will increase by £20.5 billion per year with £2 billion of that to be allocated to mental health services. The full plan of how the additional money will be spent is still unknown, however, it is thought that there will be a focus on young people’s services. Whether the money allocated for young people’s services ends up actually being spent on those specific services is yet to be seen.

Many young people are being failed adequate care, hence it is not surprising that problems exacerbate and reveal themselves in high-stress environments such as those of universities. I have a great deal of gratitude and appreciation for Cardiff University’s Student Support as well as staff from my academic school who were invaluable as I waited almost a year for specialist treatment (which I must add is now providing me outstanding treatment), despite having been in the mental health system for over a decade. Moving out of area to university is just one more hurdle young people face in the quest to receive help. It should not be the case that it falls to universities, academic institutions after all, to pick up the pieces of our tattered minds, but here at Cardiff University, we have so much to be grateful for.

For more information about Student Support at Cardiff University, please email: wellbeingandcounselling@cardiff.ac.uk or call 029 2087 4966

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