I started writing this editorial midway through our investigation into Barclay GP. I began by admitting that so far this semester I had yet to make it to any of my classes, and two and a half years since enrolling at Glasgow Uni, despite my best efforts, I was still a patient at University Barclay Medical Practice.
Somehow, for some reason, writing this editorial was easier than sending an email. And besides, send an email to who? Between an anonymous, ever-changing GP at Barclay, my Disability Advisor, my Mental Health Advisor (I’ve been through three), my studies advisor (who might as well be a cryptid for all I’ve seen of them), and a host of course conveners and tutors, it’s difficult to know where to begin.
Since then I’ve gone to one class. But hey, one is something. One’s a start. I also finally registered with a new doctor, and I even had the balls to tell my tutors the extent of my crimes.
I can’t say exactly what the kick in the ass was that finally got me to act. Maybe I was just impatient with myself. I can say that I talked over each of these resolutions with my MHA (provided by the University) to work up the nerve first.
For all my frustrations with the support available, I have never doubted that the people I spoke to in the disability or counselling services had anything but my best interests in mind, and if I hadn’t had someone at the University who was on my side, I don’t know how I would have fared in my second stab at getting my undergraduate degree. That being said, I can’t help but feel guilty about how easy I have it compared to other students. I’m lucky that I came to Glasgow well-aware that I’m a huge mess. It wasn’t so easy the first time around, when I started university at 18, already knee-deep in a depressive slump that would last over a year. This time around, fresh off a depression gap-year, I stormed the gates brandishing letters from my therapist and GP: “certified hopeless”. And finally having validation of what I’d suspected all along, I was able to register with Disability Services at the University, where I could access all kinds of systematic support to help me through my degree.
The problem is to get your foot on the ladder of the mental health services it seems that you need to come to university with a dossier of mental health problems from certified professionals, an intimate knowledge of the help available and not just a willingness, but the ability to ask for help. That’s a lot to ask for most 17-18 year-olds. And though a few laps of the mental health services will make just about anyone a quasi-expert in the system, you shouldn’t have to be one to ask for help.
It’s not that people don’t care. It’s that the system is fundamentally flawed. Having gone through the system a second time in a different city, I’m certain that university is far too bureaucratic an experience to ever be truly accessible for ongoing mental health problems. When you pull your focus beyond the four years you spend at university, going to pieces over an assignment just seems like the most arbitrary thing. So why do we just accept it? If university really prepares us for the “real world”, then what we’re learning is to stifle our own needs to suit the machinations of a greater, bureaucratic machine.
It’s difficult to ask for things, but sometimes it feels like it’s all I’ve ever done. When the world seems all too happy to see students as shiftless, lazy scroungers, these are difficult confessions to make. But I’m asking now, because this article makes me brave in a way that emails do not: we need the University to do better. We need a streamlined system that can help us with every step.
Over the past week I’ve spoken both with representatives of the University, who largely disowned any association with the GP on campus, and with a representative for Barclay GP, who expressed not only an appreciation for the strides the University makes in support of mental health, but an earnest desire to work alongside them to better support their patients.
Having now spoken to other students who, like me, have struggled to ask for help, I feel confident when I say I know what we need:
1. One point of contact at the University for students with mental health problems: someone who can send emails on their behalf, notify tutors and request Good Cause when necessary
2. The University to work with a local GP to oversee consistent treatment and accessible appointments
3. An emphasis on lecture recording within the University
4. University staff who are well versed in the support available and are willing to reach out to students
The University’s announced reform of Good Cause applications is great news, because even though I can’t remember the last time I submitted an assignment without it, no one I’ve talked to has quite the same idea of how it works. We need to keep this momentum going to push for more comprehensive support. If the University isn’t prepared to safeguard the interests of the people at their institution, then they are not prepared to shepherd an ever-growing student body into their care. Current mental health rhetoric urges people struggling to seek help, but clearly this isn’t enough if services are failing to answer their needs when they do summon the courage or energy to reach out. This isn’t just symptomatic of an over-burdened NHS – this is incompetent, lazy and reckless.
Asking for special treatment is an unpopular move, I know, but that’s what I’m doing, because I can’t do it on my own, and I’m not the only one.