University is recognised as a time for many individuals to challenge themselves intellectually, make new connections, and for some, the opportunity to discover their own independence in a new city.
Many graduates will comment on their university days being some of the best times they’ve had, rewarding themselves after long hours in the library completing assessments with the unforgettable nights out and post-dancing takeaway choices (which I’m sure there are some we’d all rather forget). Although university is usually looked back on with fondness, it is worth noting that, for many graduates and current students, it can also be associated with a mental health battle.
Nicola Dandridge, the head of the Office for Students, noted on 15th July 2021, that more than half of UK university and college students felt their mental well-being was not being supported enough this last academic year. Although the last academic year was increasingly difficult due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, surely that provides even more of a reason to ensure that students feel that their mental health is a priority in such unprecedented times that caused a range of varying anxieties. There are waiting times of up to three months for some students to receive mental health support at leading UK universities – it is not enough.
Within education, as in the workplace, it appears that mental well-being is something that is not considered a crucial component to student success. The Tab noted that not only do some universities not offer enough services to their students to support their mental health, but some UK universities have also cut back on the size of their well-being teams, even though there is an obvious demand and this is clearly supported through the Government when they announced this year they were giving £50 million to aid universities in supporting students. How is it acceptable when students pay £9,250 per year to study at university, yet they are not able to receive the appropriate help they need?
Furthermore, another issue that needs serious attention is waiting lists for students to receive counselling appointments with appropriate well-being teams within the university. Sadly, waiting lists among the NHS are some of the longest they have been, hence the requirement to implement a new five waiting time guarantee regime for mental health services. Yet, for students, who are arguably increasingly vulnerable, who may be living away from home and feeling swamped under their workload, they may feel desperate. King’s College London is considered one of the most prestigious and successful universities, ranked 35th in the world, however, students have commented on how the minimum waiting time for an initial appointment with the mental health support team is one month.
Not only do current students feel like enough is not being done, but graduates have remarked how they feel that their mental health is being overlooked. Some graduates have commented that, upon leaving university, they are failed by not receiving the support to manage their mental health, with reference to struggling with depression and anxiety and not knowing how they should cope with it. These individuals are being failed – they are not just a statistic to make the universities look impressive – they are real people that should be offered appropriate support. Universities need to do more to help their current and previous students, it should not just be about achieving a degree, but developing as an individual and feeling in a safe mindset when doing so.
Speak out to your university if they aren’t doing enough, speak to your personal tutor, speak to a member of staff that you trust. Students deserve to be listened to and receive the support they require. Additionally, here at Unmasked, we offer our free peer support hubs to any individual aged 16 and above as a safe space to come and talk.
We are currently trying to establish a team of student ambassadors across the UK to host our peer support hubs in as many universities as possible – if you would like to get involved please get in touch through our website.
Grace Farrar is the coordinator for Unmasked.