New data from the former health secretary Sir Norman Lamb has revealed that students across the UK have had to wait up to three months in order to receive mental health support. Students are paying up to £9250 a year and are not getting access to the support they need. They are being failed by their universities.
Three months! That is the length of a semester at the University of Edinburgh.
During one semester, a typical student faces constant essay deadlines, multiple exams, big nights out, the occasional night in, friends who lose touch, break-ups, and sleepless nights. A lot can happen. A lot can get better, but a lot can also get worse, or rather, nothing can change at all.
Facing a three-month wait for your university to provide a counsellor creates a three-month hole for students, who are without support, to fall through.
Students are less likely to seek help without knowing that there will be a definite and immediate response.
There is an extensive waiting list where there should be an inclusive and helpful walk-in service.
This serves as evidence that, even in a society which increasingly speaks up about mental health, it is still not taken seriously when it counts.
This becomes evident when it involves vulnerable young people, who are often dealing with the stark and abrupt changes that university and moving away from home can bring to their lives.
Lamb’s data revealed that, out of the 110 UK universities included in the study, many had no recordings of the length of time students had to wait. This lack of detail concerning a mental health helpline shows how significant the mental illness stigma is in the UK. It is not a priority as it is often not visible, like a cut that just needs some stitches or a plaster.
Stigma tells us that it should be dealt with in private, or not at all. This has created a dangerous atmosphere where students just have to ‘get on with it’ until their wait is over. This has prevented universities from directing their funding to mental health.
This is the UK where mental health is increasingly an issue and a point of concern. Furthermore, our universities and government are failing to meet this demand with support, help or even concern.
The Scottish government has now promised to provide Scotland’s colleges and universities with 80 new counsellors. This needs to be delivered now, or really, three, or even six, months ago.
Students who have dropped out, failed classes, not left their rooms, or lost their lives since then, may have benefited, even in a small way.
At university today, no student is untouched by mental illness, whether it be themselves, a flatmate, or a coursemate that they have not seen in a while. Therefore, are 80 new counsellors enough?
Lamb is pushing for a minimum standard that universities have to meet and is calling for the NHS to work with universities to create a long-term plan.
Thus, the problem has been shown, and solutions have been revealed. Now it is the turn of the authorities to do something about this ever-worsening crisis of well-being on so many campuses across the UK.
Let’s see if the universities and NHS can rise to the occasion quickly, taking the well-being of those asking for help seriously.
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