‘I was told to stop being dramatic’: Brookes students’ experiences with uni Wellbeing

‘I finally got a counselling session booked in and they cancelled one minute before it started’

Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions has made this past academic year a lot harder than normal for many university students. In times like this, students often look to services such as Wellbeing when they are struggling. Unfortunately, Oxford Brookes have not been doing enough to support their students, forcing Brookes Student Union to start a campaign called Better for Brookes.

The Tab Brookes decided to investigate further into student experiences with the Brookes Wellbeing service.

We asked you on Instagram to tell us your experiences of the Oxford Brookes Wellbeing system and, unfortunately, many of you responded with negative accounts of your experiences.

‘I had to go to my doctors and be placed on medication because I couldn’t get help sooner’

“I self-referred in my first year and didn’t hear back for six months and was only offered three one-hour-long sessions,” said a fourth-year Business Management student.

“I ended up failing my first year exams and had to go to my doctors and be placed on medication because I couldn’t get help sooner, which meant I was actively self-harming and in a dangerous mindset, on the verge of completely giving up. Honestly, Brookes has made no effort into improving the welfare; I’ve been at the uni for four years and I have only ever heard bad things. The university doesn’t care about the students’ wellbeing.”

‘My student support coordinator was always there for me when I needed to talk to someone’

“I’ve had a really good experience to be fair. I spoke to my student support coordinator about starting counselling as I struggle with my mental health. She was always there for me when I needed to talk to someone (she has counselling training) so I’ve had a few meetings with her over Zoom,” said Katy, a third-year student who studies Music.

“She helped me start the process of counselling through uni and I have six sessions this semester. One thing I’d say is that they should offer more sessions because they give us six sessions for the whole academic year, which really isn’t enough when you think about uni starting in September and ending in April/May.”

‘I was borderline suicidal…yet it took six days for them to reply’

“I self-referred for Wellbeing in second year when I was really, really struggling. I was borderline suicidal and answered the form questions accordingly, yet it took six days for them to reply and offer me a ten-minute telephone appointment,” said a third-year Geography student.

“It was the most abrasive and irresponsible handling of a very sensitive situation and it nearly scarred me from ever pursing therapy again. Gross negligence in response to a student being brave enough to reach out for help was shocking.”

‘I was basically told to stop being dramatic’

“I went to talk about things when stuff got stressful, was basically told to stop being dramatic and that I was the problem,” said a second-year Law student.

“There was no offer of support and I was just told to get on with things and to ‘not stress out’”.

‘I was devastated to feel like my problem wasn’t important enough’

“I spoke to an operator about my eating disorder, outlining how much it wasn’t just affecting my mental wellbeing, but deeply impacting simple daily tasks and obviously academic ones as well. They asked no more than two questions about it, like ‘how often’ or ‘since when’,” said student Caterina.

“Then, they questioned whether I had suicidal thoughts and the second I said no, they told me to visit the GP and hung up a few seconds later. Making that call was very hard for me, as I’ve always kept it a secret with everyone until then. I was devastated to feel like my problem wasn’t important enough.”

‘I have a mentor with Wellbeing who helps me with my anxiety and she has been really great’

“I have a mentor with Wellbeing who helps me with my anxiety and she has been really great. Based on my experience with Wellbeing, I would say on the whole, the individuals in Wellbeing are trying their hardest but honestly the system is overwhelmed and underfunded…now in the current circumstances with coronavirus, this has resulted in them not being able to cope,” said a third-year Psychology student.

“I also think it’s totally inadequate for Brookes to just provide a website as a substitute. A website that has second rate self-assessment tools and content which my friend described as ‘triggering’ just isn’t good enough. Maybe they should consider using all those tuition fees they’re not refunding to better fund Wellbeing.”

‘In 2018, I was diagnosed with cancer and was told I had to still attend lectures’

 “In 2018, I was diagnosed with cancer and was told I had to still attend lectures. I got an email whilst I was in ITU, saying that my attendance was too low,” said a Law LLB student in her second year, before she was forced to drop out.

“I was told that if I don’t turn up to exams, I will fail the course and lose accreditation. I had to use lawyers and my MP to get fees back because I dropped out but I was still charged.”

‘I finally got a counselling session booked in and they cancelled one minute before the session’

“I had a suicide attempt in 2019 and I got put on SSRI antidepressants. I couldn’t afford therapy, so I tried through uni and they never saw me once. I had been trying since first year but never once got seen,” said a third-year Law student.

“I’m diagnosed with manic depression and severe anxiety and I finally got a counselling session booked in and they cancelled one minute before the session. I was going to harm myself so instead I jumped on the Oxford Tube and went home without any of my uni stuff and had a couple of months just not doing anything because I wasn’t capable.”

“Someone from Wellbeing eventually saw me and was genuinely lovely but I’m yet to be set up with counselling for any of my mental health issues, suicidal thoughts or my body issues. She, however, did help me get extensions in all of my subjects and encourage me, saying that I could do well at uni; in first and second year I was getting 40 per cent passes whereas now, I’m getting 70 per cent passes so that helped.”

‘When Covid started, my counselling was just abandoned’

“When Covid started, my counselling was just abandoned. I suffer from diagnosed clinical depression and I sought counselling in my third year. I had sessions every two weeks from late January to March. My therapist was ill as Covid lockdown was being put into place, I got an email telling me this. But there was no follow-up and no attempt from the wellbeing services to follow through with my remaining counselling sessions,” said a Philosophy Research Masters student.

“I still had several left, and I was still going through a bit of a shit time I thought they would email me about some kind of online counselling but I wasn’t made aware and I don’t think there was any in the first place, of a replacement they had put in place. Obviously there are many students who have probably had it worse, but the problem is when something like this happens, it could be the difference between someone killing themselves and staying alive.”

‘She then said, ‘well if you want to lose the weight, just cut out carbs’’

“I remember the first time we spoke, the first thing she asked was ‘so what’s wrong with you’ and it felt a bit much. She made no effort to get to know me, and she just expected me to open up about how I felt, which startled me. I’d never been to counselling before so I wasn’t sure if that was normal, but it felt like a very rushed approach. I remember the second, maybe third time I saw her, she was calling me by the wrong name and had the wrong file, which obviously didn’t bode well,” said a History student, who was in second year at the time.

“Then, I started talking about how I felt about my body, and she outright asked what size I was, I told her and she outright said ‘no you’re not’, which made me really angry because I was that size! And I wanted her to try and get me to accept that rather than minimise how I was feeling. I knew deep down I wasn’t overweight, but that’s the issues with eating disorder tendencies. She then said, ‘well if you want to lose the weight just cut out carbs!’ it just made me feel so defeated, I wanted to taught to accept how I felt, not continue a cycle of restrictive eating and feeling guilty for eating a grain of rice. I stopped seeing her after that because I felt as though she didn’t get it.

“There was also a questionnaire about if you have suicidal thoughts, and you rated yourself between zero and five I think I chose one because, again, I wasn’t feeling particularly brilliant. And she asked me at the end of the session, so you said you rated one on the scale, how do you feel now? Obviously because I didn’t know the woman and didn’t feel comfortable talking so deeply yet about my mental state, I said ‘oh no I’m fine’ and then just changed the box to zero and never mentioned it again.”

A spokesperson for Oxford Brookes University said:

“The welfare of our students is of the utmost importance to Oxford Brookes and the University has worked hard to ensure that its range of wellbeing services are accessible during Covid-19.

“The six-session counselling provision is a model of therapy which is widely used across all sectors. It is intended to offer a brief, focused approach to working on specific areas of concern that affect students’ ability to study and live at university. During an initial clinical assessment, it is established whether a student is likely to benefit from this form of counselling or if alternative support is needed. Occasionally, more than six sessions can be offered where there is a specific need for this.

“However, we recognise that short-term counselling is not suitable for every student. The University is committed to providing a range of support and advice services, including confidential counselling, access to specialist mental health advisors, a range of self-help resources and links to local networks and resources.

“If students need specific treatment for complex mental health issues we follow NICE guidelines and support them to access local mental health specialist services.

“Students can now also access Togetherall, a 24/7 online mental health platform which can be used anonymously.”

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. You matter.

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