Student tells how he waited 'an age' for mental health support at university
A former student who considered dropping out of university while waiting to speak to a mental health professional has said the wait for treatment "felt like an age."
Figures released for Mental Health Awareness Week revealed students are waiting almost two months for on-campus support.
The survey of more than 2,000 UK-based students by discount platform Student Beans found an average 52 day wait to get help, with a third of people cancelling appointments due to the wait.
However, some are facing much longer delays, with former Kingston University student Calvin Prickett telling the Standard that he was first told he would have to wait nine months for an appointment.
He said: “I was told it could be a nine-month wait.
"Blessedly it only turned out to be six months, but even that feels like an age when you’re mentally unwell.
"It felt like being caught in limbo. My grades, usually excellent, dramatically slipped. I spent weeks not leaving halls, staying inside, seeing no one, speaking to no one, progressively getting worse.
“When I finally was assigned a single therapist for continual sessions, I felt like I was given the support I required. It just took an age to get there, and for some people that wait can be fatal.”
A Kingston University spokesman said it provides "a range of support services for students who may be dealing with stress, anxiety or other mental health issues".
It added: “The Student Wellbeing Service offers appointments for students to discuss their individual situation confidentially with a counsellor or mental health advisor.
"These include crisis appointments for those in urgent need of immediate mental health support as well as daily drop-in sessions."
He said university counsellors can provide up to six weeks of short term therapy, with those requiring more long-term care being referred to the NHS.
"Waiting times in such instances are dependent on the relevant NHS service," he added.
“The university also works directly with students who declare a mental health diagnosis as part of the application process or at any time during their degree to put in place support packages that run throughout their time at university to minimise the impact on their studies.”
Mr Prickett, 25, who left university in 2016, said he failed his first year due to mental health.
He added: “The only reason why I stayed on was that I was too ashamed to explain to my parents what had happened and why. I very nearly dropped out of my fourth year.
“Universities are cauldrons of stress, anxiety, deadlines, and self-imposed learning that are a genuinely awful experience for students with mental health issues.
“Until there are stronger support systems in place, with a much faster response time, they’re going to continue to see students dropping off of courses due to entirely preventable issues.”
Mr Prickett said that he found the on-site medical centre “receptive and understanding”, but said that it is the waiting list for professional help which “made things problematic”.
The new research found that more than 83 per cent said they had struggled with their own mental health at university.
Nearly half of people who said they struggled with mental health said they considered dropping out of university altogether.
A spokeswoman for mental health charity Mind said that it is “worrying to see that some students are waiting two months for on-campus support”.
“We want to see universities working with students to ensure the right mental health support and services are in place so that students are getting the help they need, wherever they choose to go to university,” she said.
“It’s vital that anyone with a mental health problem can access the support they need as quickly as possible.”
The National Union of Students also acknowledged that students accessing professional support at university “face massive variation in the quality and availability of support”.
They said: “Whilst there is no quick fix, NUS believes that universities need to tackle the root causes of poor mental health. We’ve advocated for additional support and training for all staff that have contact with students, in particular around mental health, and care must be culturally competent.
“We’ve also argued for affordable, safe and supportive accommodation as a key change, whether privately managed or owned by institutions, including ensuring support within a purpose built student accommodation that can intercede to prevent a crisis."
See Mind’s website for information on how to cope with student life. Mind’s infoline is available Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.