Posted tagged ‘mental health’

The mental health imperative

July 3, 2018

When I was a student in the 1970s, almost nobody ever mentioned mental health. And yet, I knew several students with anxiety and depression, who often found it difficult to share their problems with anyone, and who had pretty much no support they could call upon within the system. At least one of them was unable to complete their course, and struggled with these problems for many years subsequently.

Now, in 2018, the problem is at least increasingly recognised, though whether we are close to providing mental health and wellbeing care and support for all those in higher education is another matter. What is clear is that the pressures on students are increasingly intense and many find it difficult to cope. Staff on the other hand need what the charity Student Minds calls ‘mental health literacy’.

NUS Scotland has recently adopted a Charter for Student Rights on Mental Health. This sets out ten basic rights for students based on clearly identified need. Some of the problems identified by the NUS included the impact of internet trolling, inadequate availability of counselling, special problems encountered by LGBT students, and growing suicide numbers.

The NUS initiative is to be welcomed, and individual universities and colleges all need to prioritise mental wellbeing also. My own institution, Robert Gordon University, recently concluded a Student Mental Health Agreement with our Students’ Union, which will, I hope, provide an effective framework for support where it is needed. There is still much to be done.

The most important thing is not to ignore mental health and wellbeing, and not to let any members of the university community feel they have nowhere to go and nobody to support them. This is where we have to start.

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Wise counsel

April 29, 2014

I may have been a very insensitive person back in the 1970s when I was a student, but I have to say honestly that I cannot remember any of my fellow students suffering any form of psychological distress. Of course we don’t ever know what goes on in someone else’s mind, and how much distress some people learn to absorb before they eventually snap. There must have been some who were stressed by examinations, personal relationships, concerns about whether they would find employment, and so forth. But I was not aware of any of this, nor was I aware of any university support services that might have helped those in need of them. Indeed in preparing to write this post, I have dug out the booklets and manuals and information I was given when I was a fresher, and there is no reference in them to any counselling or similar services; though there is, believe it or not, a robust defence of the use of recreational drugs. Well, it was the 1970s.

Thankfully most universities nowadays employ professional counsellors who can support students in difficulty. And while I cannot imagine that there were no students with such needs 40 years ago, it seems clear to me that the stresses and pressures that might create these needs are much stronger nowadays. Recently for example it was reported that 1,300 students of the University of Glasgow saw a counsellor in the last academic year: that is about 7 per cent of the entire student body. Students enter university with huge pressures: financial, personal, professional, academic. Not only are these pressures common, they tend to affect those most who have nobody to talk to to relieve them. The variety of problems counsellors may encounter and the complex needs of those seeking help are shown in this account of the work of a counsellor at a Canadian university.

Mental health and wellbeing are vital in higher education institutions. So universities need to provide and value the work of professional counsellors, sometimes also of chaplaincies or indeed student initiatives (such as the ‘Please Talk‘ programme in Ireland). Whatever form these services take, they should be strongly supported by universities everywhere. The key principle should be that, whatever your problem, you must know that you need never be alone. Never.