by Gee Harland
A Freedom of Information request by former Gair Rhydd editor, George Cook, has found that the number of mental health referrals to Cardiff University’s student counselling services has tripled in the last six years.
The negative impact of mental health on University students comes as no surprise, at the hands of deadlines, exams, debt and their impending futures. One University Graduate interviewed for this article said: “I felt isolated and lonely, which made my anxiety worse.”This is a major issue in universities, and one that requires continuous attention.
Poor mental health among students needs to be addressed because when not given the proper attention they need, mental health problems can catalyse further difficulties. They can interrupt study, social life and self-care.
An increased demand for mental health services is suggested to be a result of the government lifting the ‘Students Number Gap in 2012’. Since the cap on the number of students accepted has been lifted, universities’ support services have reportedly been unable to keep up with the requirements for mental health support. Similarly, with overcrowded courses, lecturers may not be able to provide individual support for students due to the volume of the degree, and consequently, the lack of time.
Cardiff University provides ‘Student Support and Wellbeing Services’, located on Park Place. Describing their responsibilities as “promoting positive mental health and reducing stigma”, they are committed to “supporting [their] students with mental health difficulties”.
They offer a variety of counselling an wellbeing services, which start with a 90-minute Therapeutic Consultation (TC) which can be done face-to-face, or over the phone or email. If required, they then offer up to ten weekly counselling sessions. Similarly, wellbeing sessions are offered which “comprises both proactive and reactive methods” and are 45 minutes in length, and lead to further counselling sessions if needed. Both types of sessions can be accessed through self-referral online.
Cardiff University Student Support and Wellbeing Services recently released their statistics for the total number of referrals for Counselling and/or Wellbeing support. They show that the demand for counselling and wellbeing sessions has tripled since 2012. This takes into account many different issues which impact mental health, from abuse to physical health.
Orla Tarn, Mental Health Officer for Cardiff Students’ Union, told Gair Rhydd: “These figures can be viewed in a positive light. Obviously, it is not positive that so many students are having these issues at University, but it appears more people are seeking good health and this is highlighted by the increase in people attending mental health drop-ins.”
Resultantly, the average waiting times for an appointment have increased from 11.6 days to 13.6 days since 2012. Student Support and Wellbeing services state, they “deliver a risk-based approach”, so it may be that students are asked to join a waiting list during busy times.
However, it is clear that the number of students needing aid has increased, so waiting times are gradually becoming longer regardless.
Aaron Parkes, a Cardiff University student explained how it can be frustrating as exam periods are often two weeks long, and have finishedby the time an appointment becomes available.
It can be argued that Cardiff University may need to focus more on meeting the demands of mental health referrals.
Tarn continued: “If you compare the University services to those on the NHS, the waiting times are a lot shorter. The drop-in sessions encourage students to access the support they need when they need it, but there are of course further things we should be doing.”
When asked what more could be done to improve support for students and address waiting times, she pointed to her election manifesto, which seeks to support staff across the university, and union in becoming more aware of students’ wellbeing, especially personal tutors around exam time.
Despite waiting times being lengthy, Cardiff University’s funding for mental health, counselling and wellbeing services has increased since 2012, from £342,000 to £485,000.
Registered mental health advisors and mentors have increased because of this, which may go towards aiding the waiting times for appointments. Alongside funding and staff increases, the Student Life Centre is in the process of being built. The £50 million project is delivered in partnership with the Students’ Union and will focus on careers, mental health services, international student support and financial support. It is due to be finished in 2020 and was a direct response to student feedback.
Amr Awishah, Vice President of Welfare and Campaigns for Cardiff Students; Union, comments that “there is an increasing need for mental health support in modern society, that is something that is happening on a global scale. Students, as a part of society, are not excluded from that – we want to ensure all students are able to succeed, which means supporting them to deal with any problems they face whilst studying”.
Awishah also explains that PIPPS (Suicide Prevention Training) will be offered to staff and students across Cardiff University.
He continued: “There are a number of other projects and campaigns planned for the year, and I encourage students to get in touch if they need support or if they want to be a part of shaping this activity.”
Tan’s final comments on the issue are that it is important for students to “just make that initial contact with somebody.”
Mental health evidently effects hundreds of students, especially since the capped courses were eradicated in 2012. Though Cardiff University has signified how important their student’s mental health is, it is still important to keep this issue at the forefront of the University’s agenda.
Waiting times for counselling and referral appointments needs to be addressed further, but it is hoped the new Student Life Centre will go some way to making positive changes in this area.