There is a mental health epidemic happening at Bristol Uni, and it’s about time they act

Funding for mental health services is more important than vanity projects like Temple Quarter


CW: Suicide

In the last fortnight, the University of Bristol has confirmed that three students have died, and over the last 18 months we have seen a rising number of student deaths. These are complete and utter tragedies, and as a university community we don't know what to do. Where do we go from here when the uni is clearly not doing enough to protect the lives of our fellow students? What can we do when students are losing their lives, stuck in a support system that leaves them on waiting lists for months?

On Tuesday, all students at the university received an email from Hugh Brady, the Vice-Chancellor, and included was a link to his recent open letter about the university's support services. Instead of reflecting on what has happened, and addressing the university's deficiencies in their mental health support services, I was disgusted to see the university were using this as an opportunity to trot out and sing the praises of their new proposed pastoral care system for halls, a proposed system that is removing support from halls and has been surrounded in controversy from the moment it was released into the public domain. This system has been vehemently opposed by students and staff alike, all expressing worries for the safety of students living in halls next year without the tireless, and easily accessible in-hall support of Wardens, Deputy Wardens and Student Support Advisors.

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The proposed halls changes were opposed by staff and students

Management seems to be severely misguided in the direction in which they are taking this university, and the way in which they don't seem to be prioritising our lives and welfare. It appears that they are more bothered about funding vanity projects such as Temple Quarter than more one-on-one counselling, leaving students feeling unsafe and inadequately provided for. The university may be putting £1m into employing new Wellbeing Advisors, which are needed in supporting student welfare through their academic schools – but this is not enough. Students do not need to see project plans and campus expansion, at which millions and millions of pounds are being thrown. We need to see proper support in place and our lives put at the forefront of any policy or plan to change campus.

What Bristol fails to see is that we are people with struggles, and our wellbeing and our lives are not to be ignored or put at risk in the university's strive to be a 'sector leader' in mental health provision. Instead of listing off investments and self-promotions, Bristol needs to reflect and do something tangible, something visible, something easy to access, to support us as students. Instead of selling to us their new ‘whole-institutional approach’ to mental health and wellbeing, the university needs to talk to us, listen to us, and hear our stories and experiences instead of acting over our heads.

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These tragedies could have been prevented, and many more students are being put at risk by inadequate and inaccessible support. It is only out of sheer luck and due to the amazing work of my Warden, Student Support Advisor, and Senior Residents that I am still alive. In the new system, I know that I and a number of my peers would not be here today.

So please, Bristol University, hear our voices. Listen to our pleas for a better Student Health Service where students with mental illnesses are not simply sent back home with prescriptions. For a Student Counselling Service that does not expect you to write an essay on your mental health difficulties before even being assessed. For live-in support in our halls, and easily accessible help for those in private rented accommodation. For personal tutors with mental health training. For a better policy when considering the suspension of students due to their mental ill-health, a policy that does not put these students more at risk and take away their autonomy when it comes to their mental health care. For a second-tier mental health service that isn't patronisingly named Vulnerable Students’ Support Service.

The University of Bristol needs to take a long hard look at itself, its inadequate support services, and its policies that seem to prioritise expansion and standing in the Higher Education sector above student lives, and actually begin to seriously take the wellbeing and welfare of its students into account.