Aberdeen’s mental health service is one of the least used in the UK

Demand for counselling is on the rise

The University of Aberdeen has come 20th in The Tab’s inaugural 2016 Mental Health Rankings.

Aberdeen’s ranking is partly a result of poor outreach – the university finished 28th out of 30 when measured just on outreach to students.  However, the university’s score was pulled up by slightly above average student satisfaction, and decent support for the counselling service. The university spends over £20 per student on the counselling service, practically unchanged from five years ago, when it spent £18 per student.

The Tab’s 2016 Mental Health Rankings are the first ever attempt to judge universities on how they treat mental health, with the aim to improve standards nationally, reward good universities, and highlight underperforming universities. Some 30 of the best universities in the UK are included.

Aberdeen has the highest rate of eating related disorders in the country, with over 36 per cent of those with a mental illness saying they were affected by one. Some 77 per cent of students did not apply for extenuating circumstances, despite being ill. It’s a pattern reflected in other universities: over 86 per cent of Oxford students did the same, while the national average was 74 per cent.

The new rankings are the result of increased media coverage over student’s mental health. Until now, there had been no detailed examinations of how universities across Britain are coping with increasing numbers of students struggling with mental health issues.

Demand for mental health services has shot up at a time when there are less resources to go around. The NHS is facing front-line cuts that affect students particularly – GP practices at universities get less money than other general practices. The lack of trained psychiatrists across Britain, plus the “cascade” of cuts down the NHS, mean that universities have been pushed into the front-line.

According to Jeremy Christey, who works in the Sussex University Counselling Service as well as running StudentAgainstDepression.org, NHS cuts have had a staggered impact on mental health care:

“The NHS threshold has gone up, which means that it’s harder to get access to treatment in all parts of mental health services. There’s less money for inpatient services, so more complex people are in the care of crisis services, which means that more people go from crisis to lower-tier services. There’s a cascade effect that impacts students, and as NHS trusts know that students have a university counselling service to go to, people can often be pointed back in our direction.”

This means both doctors and counsellors are working harder than ever to treat as many students as they can. Nationally, stories abound of students who haven’t been seen in months, or who have asked for help only to be turned aside, at both counselling services and doctor’s offices. Glasgow has a waiting list of seven to 10 months, and York has had to re-evaluate its entire mental health provision.

Other universities have turned to ‘wellbeing services’, and slashed counselling – despite counselling sessions still being the “heart of the services” according to Student Health Association’s Honorary Secretary Dr Dominique Thomson.

A spokesperson for the university said: “The University of Aberdeen recognises the importance of supporting its students and encouraging them to engage with appropriate metal health and wellbeing services. We are fostering a culture in which staff and students feel able to discuss mental health and wellbeing concerns so that the appropriate support can be provided. A range of initiatives have been put in place in collaboration with the students’ association to encourage greater uptake of the services on offer such as the student counselling service, Nightline, chaplaincy support and access to personal tutors. The University has recently made new appointments to its counselling team to further enhance the provision for students and we are constantly looking at ways to further improve our services.”

Despite the somewhat negative national outlook, Dr Thomson still stressed the importance of going to your GP: Often with psychiatric or psychological care of any kind, there’s a waiting list. It’s important for us to say to patients, look: “You’re on the list, you will be seen.” In the mean time, we offer bridging work, often with third sector organisations, like group work or a couple of one-on-one counselling sessions, that provide some level of care before they can get treated properly.”

If you are struggling with mental health, please reach out. Organisations like the Samaritans are here to help. To find out how we compiled the rankings, click here.

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