Coming to university is generally thought to be one of the best periods in your life, but it can also an immensely challenging experience. For those additionally suffering with mental health issues, the stresses of moving away, meeting new people, and getting to grips with academic life can feel unmanageable.
“I ended up in hospital in my first year,” says Joe Sheedy, a University of Nottingham student who has struggled with depression for most of his teenage and adult life. “There is a lot for people to get stressed about. You get told how going to university will be the best days of your life, but for some people it really isn’t.”
“You get told how going to university will be the best days of your life, but for some people it really isn’t.”
Recognising that you have a mental health disorder can be hard enough, never mind gathering the courage to seek help. But, according to FOI data published by The Guardian, the number of people seeking counselling at the University of Nottingham has risen by 17.92% since 2008.
On a national scale, the number of students seeking help for mental health issues has more than doubled at some of the country’s top institutions. Is it an indication though that students are struggling more than ever with their mental health, or can the rise be accounted to another, perhaps more positive, reason?
The number of people seeking counselling at the University of Nottingham has risen by 17.92% since 2008.
The wish to seek help from the NHS or the services provided is often closely linked to the quality of those services. Laura Meynell, a third year Pharmacy student, has experienced depression since the age of 14, at a time when she felt there was little information about her condition.
“For a long time I tried to deal with the depression myself – unsympathetic doctors and a lack of information and support had put me off dealing with the NHS with regards to my mental health. I worry that many people are in the same situation when they try to seek help from the national services.”
However, the provision of mental health services is taken very seriously at UoN. “Mental health is a massive thing for us,” says Daniel Hammersley, the Business Manager of the University of Nottingham Health Service.
“We believe that approximately one in three consultations have a mental health element of some sort. Our internal clinicians have worked here for a long time, are very experienced and a number of them have taken specific qualifications in mental health.”
He adds that: “70% of our patients are 18-25 year olds, so the services developed over the last 40 years are specialised to student needs. The range of them, compared to other universities nationally, is also phenomenal.”
“The range of UoN services, compared to other universities nationally, is also phenomenal.”
Claire Thompson, who was responsible for liaising with Cripps and the Counselling Service to set up the Mental Health Advisor service, has certainly noticed a difference between the provision of services nationally and the ones provided by the university.
“Before here, I worked in a local community for many years,” she explains. “Nowhere did a community have the choice that students have here. The university has such a range of services.”
These services include appointments with external mental health practitioners within the surgery, covering everything from low level CBT work to consultant psychiatry, to drop in sessions such as their largely successful ‘Emotions and Eating’ clinic for people struggling with eating disorders.
Joe says that he has found from experience that the services here are “far better than in other places”. He explains that the Mental Health Advisor service has been particularly helpful in his recovery compared to the national Crisis teams.
“I think if I hadn’t had the specialist services here at the university I would have been in a much worse position than I am in right now. National services aren’t generally that good. You get treated as though you’re drunk as you tend to get quite disorientated.”
“I think if I hadn’t had the specialist services here at the university I would have been in a much worse position than I am in right now. National services aren’t generally that good.”
Perhaps then the increase of UoN students seeking help for mental health problems could be related to strength of the university’s services. Joe, however, believes that the decreased stigma around mental health has had a hand, though arguing that it hasn’t completely dissipated.
“I think [the stigma] is slowly getting better, but there are still a lot of problems,” he says. “There was an article in The Sun where the headline was ‘Broken System- Broken People’. The thing that was so bizarre about it was that you look at the article itself and it seems that they’re trying to help, but it was accompanied by such an idiotic headline.”
The remaining stigma is an issue that the university services are tackling. “We are working to get people to think about mental health more positively, to look after themselves, to move away from an illness model,” Claire explains.
She refers to UoN Student Minds (formerly Mental Wealth), a student led group that puts on a number of talks, workshops and training to support students with their mental health and well-being. “It is the first time we’ve had a student voice around the issue of mental health.”
Pat Hunt, Head of the University Counselling Service, agrees that generally that the stigma surrounding mental health is diminishing, though she says that the number of male students who use the service is less than the number of female students.
On the increase of people visiting the service, she says: “Demand is increasing and the people here at the Counselling Service work incredibly hard.”
The number of male students who use the service is less than the number of female students.
There isn’t an exact answer to why more students are seeking counselling. Most of the UoN professionals hope that the decreased stigma towards mental health together with the widening availability of mental health services is encouraging students to be more comfortable with asking for help.
“Hopefully it’s a reflection that people are being encouraged to seek support,” says Claire. “And to not see it as something shameful, but as something that you can receive good help and support for.”
Nadia Raychinova. Additional reporting by Emily Shackleton.
Image: Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc