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Waiting times for a counselling session at Cardiff are the highest they’ve been in five years

The university have now closed the online referral system permanently

Alex* experienced suicidal thoughts during his second year at Cardiff University. Like many, he reached out to the counselling and wellbeing team for support. It took a month and a half for him to get an initial assessment.

He was then placed on a further waiting list for two months before he could get a second appointment. He said: "By the time I'd been given a second appointment three and a half months after letting them know I'd been having serious problems including suicidal thoughts I'd already decided to go on anti-depressants because I couldn't cope alone."

But Alex's experience is not a one off, it is typical of many students' experiences of the Cardiff University's mental health services.

An investigation by The Cardiff Tab as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests found the mental health services at Cardiff University are completely oversubscribed and waiting times are worse than ever.

Key figures found by The Cardiff Tab:

• 5x more students are being referred to the service now than six years ago

• Waiting times are the highest in five years

• Only £22 per student is spent on the service

• There were 148 students on the waiting list during exam season

More students are accessing the service than ever

The total number of students who access or are referred to the counselling and wellbeing service has risen massively in the last five years. Last year, 17 per cent of Cardiff students accessed or were referred to the service.

The total number of students accessing the service sat at 5,272 for 2018/19. This figure is up from 4,074 in 2016/17 and is more than double the figure of 2,444 in 2014/15.

Total number of students who were referred to or accessed the service:

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Of the 2018/19 figure, 2,269 students referred themselves for 1-2-1 support, 741 attended a drop-in and 662 were referred by fellow students through the "concerned about a student" system.

The data also includes those referred to workshops and groups rather than 1-2-1 support.

The waiting list became so long that the referral system was closed

During the exam season, there were 148 students on the waiting list.

This led to student support closing their online referral system, therefore not taking on new students for 1-2-1 support until after the exam period had ended.

The university have since closed the online referral service permanently, and referrals for ongoing support will now only be made through attending 15 minute drop-in appointments.

The Cardiff Tab can also reveal the main reasons students access support, with data from 2016/17 showing that depression, anxiety and stress, and relationships are the most common reasons.

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For every Cardiff student, only £22 is spent on mental health

The budget for the counselling and wellbeing service in 2018/19 was £702,000. This figure also includes mental health advisors within the disability and dyslexia department. This puts spending per student at about £22.

Spending was lower in previous years, in 2017/18 the total was £582,000.

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Student numbers have also risen over time, putting spending per student at £13 in 2015/16, £15 in 2016/17 and £18 in 2017/18.

Waiting times have risen year on year

The average wait time for an initial appointment with student support has risen from 13.6 days in 2016/17 to 17 days in 2018/19. 

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Following this, there is an average wait time of 26.1 days for further appointments. However, the university says there is a deliberate four week gap between an initial appointment and ongoing sessions to enable students to try out new strategies. 

These are the average waiting times given to us by the university, however The Cardiff Tab have spoken to many other students like Alex who have been on waiting lists for periods of up to three months.

Alex said: "It made me feel frustrated. I'd been to my GP first who'd advised I go through uni for quicker waiting times which turned out to be the opposite. With upcoming exams I had wanted to sort out my mental health way earlier and I wasn't able to do it all on my own."

His story unfortunately reveals the reality for students struggling with their mental health at Cardiff University.

James Wareham, VP Welfare at Cardiff University Students' Union told The Cardiff Tab: "In an ideal world, every student in need of support would receive exactly what they need, when they need it. Using the new Mental Health Strategy being released this year, we can intervene in depleting mental health in the University community and desaturate support services for those that need it the most. There is clearly much to be done by everyone, the university included."

A Cardiff University spokesperson said: “Cardiff University takes mental health extremely seriously. Student wellbeing remains an absolute priority and we continue to encourage students to access the support that is available, especially if they are in crisis.

“There has been a rise in the number of students accessing our Counselling and Wellbeing Services which is, in part, a reflection of the priority the University places on mental health and the proactive measures we are taking to encourage students to access our services.

“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."