Students unsatisfied with counselling waits

Louise Wilson

Recent research into the mental well-being of students has cast doubt on the availability of proper help for those suffering from mental problems at higher education institutions.

The research, carried out by Dr Anthony Seldon of Wellington College, sent questionnaires to the ex-head teachers of students now enrolled at university and revealed that many are unhappy or unconfident in the pastoral care provided for students. 80% of those surveyed felt such pastoral care was not good enough.

The University of Glasgow, though it does provide counselling services, has been been criticised by students for their own failures in looking after the well-being of students. One student told the Guardian that, when she tried to get a counselling session through the University, she was told there was an 18 week waiting list for an appointment with a counsellor.

The Counselling & Psychological Service, based on Southpark Avenue, offer meetings with individuals to talk through any issues students may be facing – particularly first year students who may be struggling to adjust to university life. An assessment is offered within 2 weeks of contacting the service, but subsequent session appointments take much longer to book.

Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Guardian about her own experience with the Counselling & Psychological Service. She first contacted the Service in her first year, after feeling low and feeling unable to adjust to life away from home, in the second semester. After she was initially assessed, she was placed on the waiting list but was not contacted with an appointment time until slightly before the Spring exam period.

She decided to cancel the appointment as she would be returning home for the summer, recalling: “It took the entire term for me to get an appointment. Because my mood swings are not constant, I did not feel like I should go in the end of term – also because I did not really see the point anymore obviously. In my second year I was quite bad again, so I decided to go and because I already went through an assessment, I think I only waited for like 3 weeks or so. I asked them if they could give me an appointment quicker as it was so stupid the last time and they did.”

She has since stopped going to sessions after feeling much more comfortable living in Glasgow, but her experience highlights a problem with the Service at the university. She continued: “The point of this waiting issue is that people like me really struggle and it is not an easy thing to go to see a therapist, particularly if you are usually a proud personality. Because let’s face it, there are so many stigmas attached to it, and if you see people around you who are absolutely fine and you end up home sick, depressed or you develop anxiety issues, you feel something is wrong with you. For me it was horribly hard to make the decision to go in first year because it is just not something that I like and that fitted into the self-image I have of myself. Then you go and you feel really uncomfortable and they make you wait for ages, which is just annoying. But when people decide to go to something like this, it is urgent – or at least it feels urgent to them. Because you do not just go to see a therapist for leisure.”

Dr Seldon criticised the lack of funding towards such service in his report. He told the Independent that money was one of the larger issues facing pastoral care at universities: “They might also argue that there is not the money to provide better support. They are putting what they have into academia and there is arguably not enough for that.”

The SRC does however provide help for student suffering from various mental problems, including Nightline, the night-time telephone service for those who need to talk, and Health & Well-Being Week, aimed to increase the awareness of issues and help available across campus.

A report released in December 2012 by ChooseLife, the Scottish programme aimed at preventing suicide, found that 4.2% of all suicides were committed by students in 2009-10.