Exclusive: Dr Alex says uni students ‘should have more support’
The newly-appointed mental health ambassador tells The Tab students have been treated unfairly during the pandemic
Dr Alex George has said uni students should have more support and have been treated unfairly during the pandemic, adding that he’ll be pushing the government for students to have more mental health funding.
The Love Island 2018 star turned mental health ambassador and pandemic hero spoke to The Tab after being appointed as a mental health ambassador by Boris Johnson.
“I feel really sorry for university students,” Dr Alex told The Tab. “I think it’s been really tough for them.”
The appointment as mental ambassador came after years of campaigning around young people’s mental health, and Dr Alex says he’ll be trying to make sure students aren’t forgotten.
“It is difficult because we’ve all had to make sacrifices, but I think we need to make sure they’re not forgotten amongst everything,” he said.
“I think we do need to develop a clear plan about how we support university students. A lot of people feel understandably aggrieved spending all this money to go to university but not having lectures face-to-face.
“They’re spending money on accommodation that they’re just stuck in the whole time. It’s not the experience that they’re expecting. I think we just need to think about that and what we can do to support them moving forward.”
He adds that there’s been a lack of communication, in part down to just how unpredictable things are at the moment, and also due to the speed of change.
“What’s frustrated a lot of students – or at least I’ve heard – is that they don’t know what’s happening. Things keep changing all the time so mentally it’s very hard to get yourself into a rhythm or a routine,” Dr Alex told The Tab.
“We need to make counselling much more readily available. I think the funding into that needs to be looked at.”
Dr Alex has been working as an A&E doctor throughout the pandemic, and in June lost his brother Llŷr to suicide. He’s since channelled that first-hand experience of loss into campaigning. “I would happily trade and have my brother back and not be doing this,” he said. “It’s not a qualification anyone wants but I have it unfortunately.”
Students have been treated unfairly, said Dr Alex, who adds that the narrative painting students as irresponsible is unjust. “The vast majority of students have been very, very conscientious and aware of what they’re doing,” he said.
“I think some people have broken rules, but some people across every sector have broken the rules. There’s no immune group that behaves perfectly, I don’t believe that at all.”
Universities could do more, he argued, but also says he doesn’t believe they’re callous and uncaring. “I don’t think any university goes, ‘oh I don’t care, they’re just locked in the halls’. I don’t buy that as a narrative but I do think we do need to do more.”
The new role is objective and not part of the government, Dr Alex is at pains to point out. However, he said he wouldn’t be drawn into political criticism. “It’s been very hard. When the national guidance keeps changing, universities are trying to ultimately make the right decisions for the care of their students,” Dr Alex said. “We just need to reflect on that and think about how we can do that better moving forward.”