Cardiff Uni closes counselling referrals for new students at the start of exam period due to demand

The counselling and wellbeing team will not take any new referrals until 17th June


Cardiff University’s student support services have this week announced that they are unable to take on any new students for counselling and wellbeing appointments from now until after the end of the examination period. This is because the demand for one-on-one appointments cannot be met.

Cardiff University Student’s Union’s President Fadhila A. Al Dhahouri posted on Facebook that student support services will not take on students until 17th June because of an "unprecedented 25% increase in the number of students requesting ‘crisis support’ through the services".

However, the SU President stated that high demand is "very predictable" on the first day of the examination period, and that she has sent an email to the Vice Chancellor to find an interim solution until 17th June and a long term solution for subsequent years.

Cardiff University have made it clear that they will continue to offer students support during the exam period, such as through workshops and self-help resources.

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The online self-referral form for counselling and wellbeing appointments has been closed, and students are instead faced with this message:

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One-on-one counselling and wellbeing appointments will now only be given to students who were already accessing and using the service. Student support have told other students not registered with the service that they are offering group workshops on exam stress, can use their self-help resources, or attend 15-minute drop-in appointments where they will be given resources or signposted to other support. The Sabbatical Officers will also be giving away free tea and coffee during the exam period.

Student support services’ aims state that they will offer an initial appointment within two – three working weeks, however some students have told The Cardiff Tab they have been on waiting lists for periods of up to three months.

One student said they "sent in a self referral in January and only got a first appointment in April." Another added, "I applied in first year in November, got an assessment in January then didn't get a first appointment till April. Then I only had four sessions before being told that I didn't need anymore so I haven't been back since.”

Students also reported long waits from having an initial assessment to being given more appointments. One student told us, “the wait for the first appointment was three weeks from when I filled in the form, however it was only three weeks because my answers to the form put me as high risk. I was given a first appointment on 15th of January, then told they were putting me straight on for ongoing sessions as they considered me to be high risk but actually had to wait until the middle of April until I got a second appointment”.

One student told us: "I went in late December and they told me there was no point in bothering because of the waiting lists. I was basically told too many people were grieving."

Students have also had problems with the fact student support only offered them a limited number of sessions: “They only give you four sessions, I've got my last one soon and it's too little to really be helpful for anything except getting extenuating circumstances”. Another said, "I had to wait a long time and because they decided I wasn't bad enough, I only get a maximum of two sessions that are designed to thin the wait list’"

Student support's aims do state they normally offer four therapy sessions for ongoing support.

Cardiff University offers extenuating circumstances to students who have been adversely effected by poor mental health or events beyond their control, so they can have exams discounted or be given an opportunity to resit and also have extensions on deadlines. However, extenuating circumstances guidelines state that supporting evidence by a third party must be given.

For many students in the past this "third party" has been the counselling and wellbeing service, who provide written letters for evidence at regular or drop-in appointments. However, a recent update to their page on Cardiff intranet states that letters will only now be offered to students who are currently or have recently been engaged with the service.

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As the service is not accepting new students throughout the exam period, students struggling with their mental health will be left without evidence to get extenuating circumstances before the deadline to apply for this exam period, which is on 14th June.

One student told us, "the only other option is to get a GP letter, which can cost £30".

We contacted a relevant SU campaign officer for their views on these issues but but were told they wished to give their view but had been instructed not to comment.

VP Welfare Amr Alwishah told the Cardiff Tab, "We’ve been in touch with the VC about this. The simple answer is there’s an increase in the number of students accessing counselling, which was not accounted for by the university. I definitely think something needs to be done to avoid this in the future, and we will constantly lobby for improvements in these services as your elected officers.

"Please if you need help you can speak to your personal tutor, supervisor, Student Advice services, Nightline, Samaritans, Chaplaincy , Disclosure Response team, and your GP.

"There are some sessions organised by Student Support Services:

Dealing with Exam Anxieties online:

Tuesday 14 May 2019 15:00-16:00

Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/dealing-with-exam-anxieties-online-ymdopi-a-phwysauarholiadau-ar-lein-tickets-61564254342

Mindfulness Drop in , exam stress classes

Wednesday 8 May 2019 13:00-14:00, 4i, Students Union

Wednesday 15 May 2019 13:00-14:00, 4i, Students Union

Wednesday 22 May 2019 13:00-14:00, 4i, Students Union

Wednesday 29 May 2019 13:00-14:00, 4i, Students Union"

A Cardiff University spokesperson said:

“Cardiff University takes mental health extremely seriously. To be absolutely clear: we will continue to offer students support during the exam period and we encourage students to access this support, especially if they are in crisis. To suggest otherwise is extremely misleading.

“We have a variety of measures in place to support our students with loyal and dedicated members of staff who work tirelessly in their roles.

“Like many Universities we offer one-to-one appointments from our Counselling and Wellbeing Service to help students with short term issues which may be affecting their studies and student experience. This service has been in especially high demand recently. We have therefore had to adapt the way we work. Students already registered with the service are being prioritised for one-to-one appointments as requested. Students new to the service can access other timely options which have been enhanced. In particular, our daily drop-in service has been extended and more slots are available to see new students who wish to discuss their concerns in a short session. This is a chance to speak with a member of staff, to receive resources and to be signposted to the most appropriate support available.

“We have also increased access to other services, such as workshops on anxiety and exam stress and a range of self-help resources.”

The current adaptions to Student Support delivery are not linked to previous changes associated with providing supporting evidence for extenuating circumstances applications.

"The Extenuating Circumstances Procedure states that tutors may refer students to the Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service where appropriate, however, staff will only provide supporting evidence of extenuating circumstances if students have had prior engagement with the service.

Students would have been expected to have engaged with the service for one-to-one support prior to this point of their current circumstances are likely to affect their academic assessments.

For students with unexpected and unforeseen circumstances, examples of commonly accepted forms of evidence include:

• Doctor's letter which confirms illness and the period it affected you

• Letter of support/explanation from a support service at the University that the student has had prior engagement with

• Letter of support/explanation from a third party (such as a police report, local authority report or counsellor's letter, etc)

• Photocopy of a death certificate

Examples of evidence which are unlikely to be accepted:

• Evidence of a medical condition for which the doctor did not see/diagnose

• A letter from a parent, partner or family member verifying circumstances where there is no other independent supporting evidence"

If you are struggling with stress and your mental health during the exam period please do access support. The SU runs a range of services such as Student Advice drop-ins from 11:00-14:00 on the third floor every weekday and Cardiff Nightline which runs every night on 02920 870555 and offers listening support and information on services.