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Students identify the biggest barriers to mental health services in the UK

Students are concerned about the limited mental health service provision and long waiting times, a new report from Student Minds has found

  • Student life
Seeta Bhardwa's avatar

Seeta Bhardwa

Editor, THE Student
September 4 2017
Student Experience Survey 2018: best universities for student welfare


Limited service provision and long waiting times were two of the barriers to mental health services identified by students in a new report released by Student Minds.

Student Voices summarises the results from a questionnaire completed by 134 students about their experiences of mental health at university and the access to support. Some 127 students (95 per cent of the respondents) had personal experience of mental health difficulties and 100 of these students identified that their mental health problems started at school. A further 22 students identified that their mental health problems started at university. 

While students cited a range of barriers to accessing treatment, the primary concern was the limited service provision (n = 51). Some students also mentioned waiting lists (n = 29) as a barrier while other respondents would like to see drop-in sessions to enable access to some support without booking an appointment. A number of students (n = 22) felt that the number of support sessions was too short.

Students were also questioned about the support services that they had received from their university. Twenty-seven students explicitly stated that nothing had been helpful, with one student saying: “Unfortunately, my university is not very good at supporting these issues. It's good that they had a student services but the appointments were difficult to book and communication was poor.”

Forty students outlined that they had found professional support services most helpful. Of these, 25 praised their university counselling service with one responding: “My hero mental health advisor. She answers all emails and will always pick up the phone to listen if she can. She’s amazing and keeps me alive. She's driven me to out-of-hours GP etc. Always goes way beyond her job title.”

Oxford university, postnatal depression and me

The report also includes discussions facilitated by the Student Voices Forum, made up of students and Student Minds staff members. These groups discussed the academic experience in relation to mental health and the members’ own experiences of accessing mental health care. 

This student engagement work by the charity led to the development of the Student Listening Project, a pilot at the University of Birmingham, working with a team of student volunteers to run consultations about mental health. This project involved running two student engagement events – Student Voice Forums and Problem Solving Booths – and feeding those findings into the Student Support Service’s understanding of student experience.

Following on from this pilot project, Student Minds will be working with the Cardiff University to create a bespoke Student Listening Project for each university.

Student Minds will also be developing a range of tools for universities and student unions to engage students in the whole university approach to mental health and well-being. 

The Student Voices report was released as an accompanying document to the Universities UK Step Change Framework. The framework highlights a number of steps that can help to improve mental health services within universities and across the higher education system. 

These include developing local strategies and action plans for student mental health and student suicide prevention and working closely with the NHS to integrate university support services with local primary care and mental health services.

Professor Steve West, vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England and chair of the Universities UK Working Group on Mental Health in Higher Education who advised on the framework, said: “This framework is about getting universities to think about mental health and well-being across all their activities and people. From students to academics and support staff. From teaching and research to accommodation and relations with local communities. The step change in student mental health begins here.”

The report highlights four reasons that mental health should be a priority for all universities, including the rise in demand for student mental health support services and the fact that good mental health can lead to enhanced academic performance.

Read more: University mental health: taking student well-being seriously

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