Tab Guide to mental health services in Cambridge
If there is one article you keep from our freshers’ guide, make it this one
We all need to look after ourselves, and knowing where to get help is a massive part of that. Before we start this guide, you should know that all the services listed below abide by a strict confidentiality policy, which in short means that nothing you say will ever be repeated without your consent unless for they believe that someone is in danger.
Starting with the friendliest (and best people), each college has a number Welfare Officers. These are students often elected or appointed by the college students union which are there to advise other students about where to seek help. Find them on the student union website or even Facebook.
In College, your Personal Tutor is meant to be the fellow who helps you all things pastoral, with your Director of Studies dealing with solely academic matters. Firstly, it is a good idea for you to meet and be civil with both fellows, they are untimely your designated point of contact for the wider college. They can be really useful for explaining and navigating all the ins and outs of the University, as well as being another place to give you advice on how to deal and where to go. If you ever need a member of staff to fight for you at the university level, this will probably be your tutor.
On a day to day basis, your Supervisors will have the most impact on your life. While it can be daunting to challenge ‘your new teacher’, treating the workload they set as an inflexible mass when things start to go wrong will not go well. Talk to your supervisors to reach an understanding where you can keep yourself happy and healthy if you are ever struggling.
I said that the welfare officers were the friendliest and best; but they might have to be relegated to second place behind the Porters. The people who staff the lodges 24 hours a day are always there to offer a cup of tea, answer any question you can throw at them or simply natter for hours on end. Always there, and always ready to help.
Friendly ears help, but sometimes we need more. Each college has at least a Nurses, with more and more are employing at least part-time Mental Health Advisors and/or Counsellors. Being in college, it is often much clearer how to access these services, often through email or sign-up sheets, and waiting times tend to be lower. Many colleges don’t have these services and they can be limited to one or two part-time staff which does severely reduces choice.
Covering the whole university is the University Counselling Service or UCS for short. This service is a mixture of counsellors, CBT practitioners and mental health advisors open to all students and staff. Gaining access involves filling out an online pre-counselling form which helps the service to best fit you to a therapist, as well as helping to priories the people who need help the quickest.
This can be quite a daunting to fill in, and does ask some potentially difficult questions. This is where someone like the welfare officers can help, or just an understanding friend, who can help you fill it in or just be there if filling it in gets too much.
Another major criticism of the UCS and one of Cambridge’s most persistent urban myths is that the waiting times are up to 8 weeks. While there is some truth in this, firstly there has been an effort to reduce these times and secondly please do not let this put you off approaching the service.
It might take longer than you would hope, but ignoring the service for having long waiting times when you need it becomes counterproductive. Both the UCS and college based professional staff are there for the bigger stuff but never be afraid or approaching them, even if you think your problems are small.
Mental health problems might not be the only issues that you face in Cambridge, with more general help being offered by the Student Advice Service. Accessed easily through their own website and run by the university wide students union CUSU, they are there for when counselling or similar approaches aren’t appropriate.
For the majority of new students the move to university will mean moving away from your old doctor. Register with a new one straight away! This is for more than just mental health issues (I’m one infection away from getting my tonsils removed) and is often required, quite rightly, by the college.
Every student is entitled to use the NHS regardless of where they are from, including outside the EU if your course is lasting for more than 6 months. There are many to choose from and can offer next level treatment such as wider therapy options and medication. While some people may feel uncomfortable with taking medication, I implore you to at least keep an open mind when discussing it with your doctor.
As well as these physical services, there are a huge number of charities which exist online or over the phone. I only really have space to list them here but a quick google should help. They are: Student Minds Cambridge (student-run mental health charity); Nightline (7pm-7am listening service); Mind (mental health charity); Cambridge Adult Easting Disorder Service; Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre; Samaritans (Help and support for suicidal thoughts); Beat (eating disorder charity); Papyrus (similar to Samaritans, aimed at young people); Sane (Another great listening service but during the day) ; Cruse Bereavement Centre and Woman’s Aid.
There is a lot of support at Cambridge, but it often relies on you taking the first step. There is no right answer when it comes to what step that is, or when it has to happen, but if you are ever struggling or think that you might be beginning struggle reach out to one of these. You will feel much better if you do.