Bristol is the tenth best uni in the UK at dealing with mental health

Demand for counselling is on the rise


The University of Bristol has come tenth out of 30 universities in The Tab’s inaugural 2016 Mental Health RankingsBristol’s ranking is partly a result of poor student satisfaction – just 37 per cent of students who told the university that they had a mental health problem said they had found it had helped them, the 21st worst in the UK – but its score is pulled up in other ways.

The university’s score was increased by good financial support for the counselling service, and decent outreach. The university has steadily increased its spend per student on the counselling service since 2011 – it now stands at over £32 per student on the counselling service, one of the highest in the country.

The university got one of the highest finance scores, sixth in the UK, meaning that the university is properly funding the counselling service, in line with the wider student population.

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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.

Some 65 per cent of students did not apply for extenuating circumstances, despite being ill. It’s a pattern reflected in several other top academic universities: over 86 per cent of Oxford students did the same, while the national average was 74 per cent.

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It’s not all sweet-smelling roses though, Bristol has an above average proportion of those dealing with mental health issues who suffer from more complex issues, such as bipolar and schizophrenia. These take more time and resources to properly address, meaning that the relevant services are more stressed.

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.

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According to Jeremy Christey, who works in the Sussex University Counselling Service as well as running, 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 the Student Health Association’s Honorary Secretary Dr Dominique Thomson.

A spokesperson for the university said: “The mental health of our students is of paramount importance and we are always striving to understand how and where we can make improvements. We’ve allocated additional resources to our student counselling service for the next academic year, as well as extending our funding of the ‘Big White Wall’ to provide students with free access to this online wellbeing service 24/7. In addition, we’re reviewing the pastoral support we offer across our residences, schools and other services to make sure our students are receiving the support they need to make the most of their time at university.”

Despite the somewhat negative national outlook, Dr Thomson, who is also a GP at the Bristol University Health Centre, 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 see how we compiled the rankings, click here.