The Tab’s 2016 Mental Health Rankings are the first of their kind

See the league table in full


The Tab’s 2016 Mental Health Rankings have been revealed, and they show an astonishing variety in how different universities treat students with mental health issues.

The University of Kent topped the list, with Oxford and Reading coming second and third respectively. Kent’s combination of high student satisfaction, funding their counselling service well and having good outreach made them the best university in the country.

On the other end of the rankings, York finished bottom, with Newcastle and Glasgow narrowly behind it. The ranking comes as a shock to Glasgow, whose counselling service won the ‘Student Service Team of the year 2016’ in the Herald Higher Education awards.

Although it’s perhaps less of a shock to Glasgow students – both York and Glasgow were let down by woeful student satisfaction, with just 27 per cent of York students finding the university helpful when it came to mental health. Glasgow’s was even worse, with just 22 per cent of students saying the same.

The rankings, which include 30 top British universities, looked at student satisfaction, counselling services, outreach, and in some cases, waiting times for counselling services.

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 Times recently reported that demand for counselling services has gone up by 68 per cent at Russell Group universities since 2011. 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 being a Project Director for Student Against Depression, 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.”

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.

“The rise in student demand for NHS mental health services is clear, but it’s not clear what is causing it. It may be better awareness, and it may be due to new stresses, finances and jobs etc. I suspect it’s somewhere in the middle. This rise has come while mental health has been chronically underfunded for years.”

This has put further pressure on universities. There’s a catalogue of cases where individuals have tried to access their university counselling services, only to be told that they weren’t ill enough or didn’t meet certain requirements. The bar has been raised for entry to these services, meaning that  as even more people apply to be seen, services are rushed into making errors – administrative or counselling itself.

Despite the somewhat negative 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.”

Names have been changed, and quotes have been condensed and edited for clarity.

If you are struggling with mental health, please reach out. Organisations like the Samaritans are here to help, while your local GP can refer you to a specialist.  To see how we compiled the rankings, click here.