Increase in students seeking counselling

 Paige Barclay and Cathy Steeghs

The number of students seeking counselling support at Glasgow University has more than doubled in the last four years, the largest increase seen within the UK.

There was an average increase of a third in demand for counselling at universities throughout the UK in the last four years, according to a study by Help me Investigate. Glasgow University has seen the number of students registered with CAPS rise from 512 students in 2008-9 to 1251 in 2012-13. Glasgow University has the longest waiting list of the universities in the UK, with 239 people on it.

This increase has raised concerns that the University’s provision of the Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is not sufficient for the demand of students.

Although Glasgow University is not a member of NUS, the union released statistics in May showing the number of students with mental health concerns was increasing across the UK. The survey revealed that 92 per cent of students surveyed had experienced some sort of mental distress. 49 per cent of students had experienced feelings of depression, 55 per cent anxiety, 14 per cent thoughts of self-harm and 13 per cent suicidal thoughts.

There were various reasons for the many types of mental distress experienced. 65 per cent of those surveyed put their stress down to coursework deadlines, while 47 per cent revealed that financial worries were a trigger.

NUS also found that only 17 per cent of students had seeked advice from their place of study or their student union.

CAPS, which is funded entirely by the University, has 14 members of staff employed for the coming academic year – four of whom work full-time for the service. Of those that work full-time, two are administrative, one is a clinical psychologist and the other a counsellor. Of the ten that are employed part-time, there are nine counselors and one psychiatrist – who is contracted for only two hours per week.

The University emphasises their commitment to the service, and suggests there are a variety of possible explanations for the increase in demand.

A University spokesperson said: “Student welfare is one of our highest priorities and we have made significant investment in the services that we provide, including improved provision of support to those who require counselling. Whilst it is true that there has been a rise in the number of students seeking assistance, this may – at least in part – be due to increased awareness of the services and support that is now available.”

However, despite a 92 per cent increase in the CAPS budget from £191,188 in 2008/09 to £366,897 in 2012/13 and a campaign last year by the SRC in support of increased funding, students using the service have found the consultation process lengthy.

For 2012-13, the average waiting time for students contacting CAPS was 12 days before their initial assessment appointment, then a further 33 days until their first appointment of their series of counselling sessions.

Multiple students, who wish to remain anonymous, have reported waiting periods, after the initial assessment, varying from 8 weeks to an entire semester before counselling sessions began.

One student had mixed feelings about the service. She said: “I do not plan to continue using the counselling services. I think if I was ever in a personal crisis again, I would prefer to be seen immediately while the problem was at its worst, rather than wait to be seen in which time the problem could have either escalated or resolved itself without the need for the service.

“The counselling services were clearly understaffed and, after the first, I were automatically given a maximum block of six appointments. Although this was sufficient for me, some friends have felt the same block of time was not enough for them. I think there needs to be more of a good thing. It’s a really valuable service that supports lots of people across campus, however, I think it needs to be expanded to meet the increasing need across campus.”

The University outlined its stance on reducing waiting times: “We are working hard to reduce waiting lists, but would emphasise that we aim to provide all students with an assessment appointment within two weeks and that we also offer a daily drop-in service. Where we believe any individual case requires more immediate attention we are able respond in an appropriate manner.”

The SRC has also taken note of the strain that CAPS are under. Vice President for Student Support, Louise Graham, commented:

“It is encouraging that students at Glasgow feel comfortable using the services provided for them and recognise when they need to use this service. However, it is true that the Counselling Service is under a lot of pressure. The SRC has been putting in effort to try to relieve this by running campaigns such as Welfare Week throughout the year and are looking to implement a new Student Mental Health policy next semester.”

She also outlined plans for future collaboration between the SRC and CAPS, saying: “A recent review of counselling has led to the SRC working with the service to develop an online portal with information for students and developing an online chat service. While this isn’t a substitute for counselling, we hope that this may relieve the pressures on the drop-in service and help students while they are waiting to use the service.”