I tried to book uni counselling for a week but was told ‘come back tomorrow’ every day
Every time it said ‘no appointments are available’
I logged on to Sussex University’s online counselling service booking system every day for a week, only to be told to “come back tomorrow” every single time.
At a time when university students need support most, I decided to see just how readily available this support is. So, around the same time, early in the morning, for seven consecutive days I logged on – only to find no appointments available.
I set alarms and went to great lengths to try and get help from my university, but nothing showed up for a whole week. Every day I was met with the same three words: “Come back tomorrow.”
Despite my efforts to book one appointment every day for a week, I had no contact with the university at all. Even with signing onto Sussex Direct using my university login, there was no email to reassure me saying that my attempts to book a counselling appointment had been acknowledged.
And even once you get an appointment, is it worth it? Four students who have successfully managed to book an appointment spoke to The Tab about their experience using the service. The majority of the students told The Tab the same thing: that their experience felt rushed and after their sessions finished, they found it very difficult trying to book more.
One third year student said: “I feel like the struggle trying to book an appointment has gotten worse because more people are trying to access the service. I first booked counselling at the very start of the first lockdown, so like March and April sort of time. I got put onto a waiting list and even though it didn’t take too long for counselling to start, I only had access to five one-hour sessions. When I couldn’t make one, they didn’t let me reschedule.”
As you book counselling sessions, you are immediately given six one-hour slots at the same time and day every week. The student continued: “It just felt very rushed and as soon as progress was starting to be made, it came to an end. I wanted to book back on with the same woman but the waiting list was so much longer by then, it wasn’t worth it.”
Emily, a second year student at Sussex, spoke to The Sussex Tab about the issues which occurred after booking the service. They said: “They booked me in for an initial assessment within a week and a half of me booking it. But I feel like my issue with the service is from what happened after that. Like it was hard to find out when free appointments were after the initial assessment. It’s quite hard to figure out when they have free slots. They told me to go on Sussex Direct but they said you have to go when the appointments are released in the morning at 8:30 – they run out super quick. They never had spaces so I gave up in the end. I told them after my first assessment that I needed help, but I was never seen again.
“Right now, people need more help than ever and I think it should be one of the university’s top priorities.”
For some students, counselling at university is their only option – either because of cost, or other reasons. Sussex student Jess* can only engage in counselling when she’s at uni because her parents won’t allow it home. Jess told The Sussex Tab: “I tried to get an appointment in January but there wasn’t any availability until March. Because of coronavirus, I had to go back home and my parents don’t believe in counselling or therapy so I had to push it back until September.
“I had an initial appointment at the end of January, so they did have some sort of idea what was going on with me, but I couldn’t actually get any counselling until March. The waiting list was very long.” Jess continued to say that her personal experience of the counselling services were great once they actually began, but it was the fact they took so long to start which tarnished the overall experience.
Another second year student, Lucy, told The Sussex Tab that booking a counselling appointment was “impossible.” She continued: “You have to log on to Sussex Direct at exactly 1pm, no later, I once logged on at 1:01pm and all the appointments were gone.”
Lucy said: “I first saw them in February, they lost my referral so I had to have a second initial assessment because time had passed. I had to contact them to see them again, so then I had six Zoom sessions over July and August. I now pay £20 a week for therapy instead.”
On the Student Life Centre website, they have a clear layout of their aims and what they intend to provide to students using their services. The website states: “We aim to provide all Sussex students with: an accessible and responsive guidance, information and advice service. A professional, holistic, helpful service. Information and support to help student pre-empt and manage difficulties. Appropriate signposting and referral to support across the University.”
Emily told The Sussex Tab that the aims of the Student Life Centre do not reflect the experience she had. She said: “I don’t think that’s accurate. They probably have appropriate signposting and referral to support across the university but I feel they haven’t really provided a responsive advice service. I think the key to them is to have initial appointments to assess stuff and then I feel it’t not to helpful after that. I have also been told to just go to see my GP instead of going back to them. But I’m guessing that’s just because they felt they couldn’t provide me with the help that I needed.”
A spokesperson from The University of Sussex told The Sussex Tab: “We appreciate that this is a difficult time for many students and we are doing everything we can to make sure that support is available to those who need it. While we give priority to those in acute need, we encourage any student who needs help to contact the Student Life Centre, so that they can be advised on the most appropriate form of support for them.
“This might include counselling and other opportunities for promoting wellbeing and social interaction. We are aware that this pandemic has come on top of a growing crisis in people’s mental health which is manifesting both inside and outside of universities. We are maximising our resources to ensure that there is a range of support for students including the use of online tools and additional locums to provide more therapeutic appointments and proactive support groups for our students.”
*Names have been changed to provide anonymity.
If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably, for men aged 15 to 35) on 0800 58 58 58.
The Tab’s You Matter campaign is putting a focus on student mental health right now. If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s difficulties with getting uni support, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]