Jake Bugg at Brighton Dome
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Jake Bugg at Brighton Dome

Matthew Nicholls - April 19, 2018
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University mental health services under mounting pressure

Student services are found to have waiting lists that are too long and are unable to meet growing demand for services, a student-led documentary has exposed.

A recent NUS survey has found that 8 out of 10 students experienced mental health issues in 2014, with that number expected to rise due to recent legislation removing caps on the number of students universities are allowed to admit per year.

Sarah Craig, an undergraduate who agreed to be interviewed for the documentary, described her experience of attaining mental health support as “jumping through a lot of hoops”.

e Student Support Unit are sympathetic to the ongoing problem with long waiting lists for students, with the head of counselling describing it as something that is both “concerning” and “upsetting”. These lengthy waiting lists are unlikely to slow down with e Times recently reporting in 2016 that “demand for counselling services has gone up 68% at Russell Group universities since 2011”.

Laura Bird, the creator of the documentary also held a similar view, releasing the following statement regarding her motivations behind creating the film:

“I don’t think that students’ personal wellbeing is a priority for university management. To them university is a business, and provided that enough students continue to enroll and to pay their (rising) tuition fees, then management is happy…I was motivated to make this documentary because, while we are becoming more aware and tolerant of mental health issues as a society, this hasn’t been matched by an improvement in care.

“Since I arrived at Sussex in 2013 the inadequacy of the services on campus has been something that students and the Union have been campaigning about. e fact that so much time has passed and the situation hasn’t improved is shameful.”

The documentary stated that Sussex university intends on increasing the numbers of students by 50% by 2018 to a population of 18,000, and pointed out that reports made by the university make no mention of improving services in order to cope with a predictable increase in demand.

It also explored the idea that the university is spending more money on marketing and other tools in order to recruit more students, whilst neglecting the wellbeing and student experience of existing students at the university.

Grainne Gahan, Welfare Officer for the Sussex’s Students’ Union, responded to the release of the documentary:

“It should be the university’s main priority to ensure the health and wellbeing of its students is well looked after, and resources should be allocated to this over and above marketing and recruitment. It is vital that if the university continues to increase student numbers that they increase mental health support in line with this”.

However, the documentary also draws on the fact that the university does appear to have made strides in attempts to improve the state of mental health services for Sussex students. It is apparent that the budget per student has gone up from £391 in 2012 to £426 in 2016, and in addition to this, students who received support went from 924 in 2012 to 1070 in 2016. Indeed, a spokesperson for the University of Sussex has also commented on the fact that “the University was recently highlighted in a HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) report (Sept 16) as being a University that spends more than most on mental health services – at nearly £500k a year”.

The University reiterated that they are “absolutely resolute in its commitment to mental health provision and is something we take extremely seriously. We’re already investing heavily in widening and improving student counselling and support and are among the country’s biggest spenders on student mental- health services”.

Additionally, in 2013, a joint action plan was signed between the university and the Students’ Union, pledging to improve mental health services on campus, yet the documentary claims that a source inside the union says that “little action has been taken by university” since making this commitment.

Nevertheless, a further action plan has recently been signed by both parties once again, renewing their commitment to the issue, and bringing with it a new wave of optimism among students that this time something more will be done to counteract the long waiting lists and increasing demand for mental health support from the university.

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