Students are the solution to mental health cuts

We can’t rely on the government for help anymore

Self harm scars are a part of life for a lot of people – including an estimated 40% of Bristol’s student’s population and according to the NUS, 20% of students consider themselves to suffer with mental health problems.

Last week, the Guardian published an article on Becci Wain, a woman refused service at Tesco for self harm scars. Despite innocently trying to buy presents for a friend, her server, perhaps believing she was being helpful, judged her as being mentally incapable of making that choice.

Unfortunately, this story of misguided judgement doesn’t stand alone.

Joan Bakewell, the author, journalist and Labour Peer, made comments earlier this month labelling anorexia sufferers as “a sign of the overindulgence of our society, over-introspection and narcissism”. This seem to suggest that (despite good intentions) many people seem to find it appropriate to voice their opinions on the mentally ill without having any knowledge at all about their condition.

Sadly, the government is doing little to help. They have continually broken promises, including that of an £143m investment in psychiatric services for children for this financial year, which is as yet unaccounted for.

The Mental Health Network have stated to the BBC that they suspect that the money has been used to support other struggling NHS services flagging under cuts. The 2016 autumn spending review foretold a “mental health revolution”, despite ending up actually funnelling 70% of funds into acute trusts and leaving virtually nothing for community based mental health teams; the people who work on prevention, rather than cure.

There seems to have been no revolution at all, rather, a load of abandoned good intentions thrown aside for the sake of cost cutting.

Clearly there is still an issue. Universities see higher referral rates than ever to mental health clinics; clinics without the money to see their most at risk patients. Clinics are bound by a responsibility of care to patients – if a patient in their care were to commit suicide, clinicians might be taken to the coroner’s court.

The mental health charity MIND has said that people with mental health issues are often having to wait for over a year to access talking therapies. A second year Bristol student spoke to us about her experience. She discovered that she could not be placed on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist because she could not guarantee her safety. She also found that the surgery could offer her no more than six weeks of student counselling due to funding issues, despite clear instability.

An English student, also at Bristol, was forced to leave university after battling with mental issues and was admitted to a specialist unit that did not have the space to take her until after she was due back to university. She was discharged and told to return to university where she almost lost her life and was forced to pursue private health care. She has since left university to focus on her health. 

Stories like these are not rare.

Me featuring Cookie the anti mental health cuts guinea pig

Since coming to university, I’ve met so many people struggling with untreated problems, like anxiety, eating issues, paranoia or depression. It seems that a huge portion of the student population is weighed down by illness that the health service doesn’t have the space to treat. The simple solution seems to be to increase funding but, as we have seen with recent disability cuts, the powers that be are not sympathetic to the needs of society’s most vulnerable.

As a collective, we need to take the responsibility to help those most at need. All too frequently the mentally ill are misunderstood. Mental illnesses like anorexia and depression originate from a warped, sick society that force feeds children images of the unobtainable combined with complex biological reasons and it is unfair to pass blame onto sufferers.  Students need to challenge the conventional attitude toward emotional wellbeing by addressing their feelings and offering support to their friends – just as if they were conventional medical problems.

As the next generation, we need to foster an atmosphere of understanding for the future. Without it, we are all at risk.