Durham’s mental health service is one of the least approachable in the UK

Demand for counselling is on the rise


Durham has come 19th out of 30 universities in The Tab’s inaugural 2016 Mental Health Rankings.

Durham did relatively well for student satisfaction, coming 9th overall – despite only one per cent of students said they had found the university more helpful than unhelpful when they had told it about their mental health issue. 

However, the university’s score was pulled down by average financial support for the counselling service, and poor outreach – meaning few students approach the service for help. The university spends roughly £23 per student on the counselling service, up from £20 in 2011/12.

The Tab’s 2016 Mental Health Rankings are the first ever attempt to judge universities on how they treat mental health, with the aim to improve standards nationally, reward good universities, and highlight underperforming universities. Some 30 of the best universities in the UK are included.

Some 67 per cent of students did not apply for extenuating circumstances, despite being ill. It’s a pattern reflected in several other top academic universities: over 86 per cent of Oxford students did the same, while the national average was 74 per cent.

The new rankings are the result of increased media coverage over student’s mental health. Until now, there had been no detailed examinations of how universities across Britain are coping with increasing numbers of students struggling with mental health issues.

Demand for mental health services has shot up at a time when there are less resources to go around. The NHS is facing front-line cuts that affect students particularly – GP practices at universities get less money than other general practices. The lack of trained psychiatrists across Britain, plus the “cascade” of cuts down the NHS, mean that universities have been pushed into the front-line.

According to Jeremy Christey, who works in the Sussex University Counselling Service as well as running StudentAgainstDepression.org, NHS cuts have had a staggered impact on mental health care:

“The NHS threshold has gone up, which means that it’s harder to get access to treatment in all parts of mental health services. There’s less money for inpatient services, so more complex people are in the care of crisis services, which means that more people go from crisis to lower-tier services. There’s a cascade effect that impacts students, and as NHS trusts know that students have a university counselling service to go to, people can often be pointed back in our direction.”

This means both doctors and counsellors are working harder than ever to treat as many students as they can. Nationally, stories abound of students who haven’t been seen in months, or who have asked for help only to be turned aside, at both counselling services and doctor’s offices. Glasgow has a waiting list of seven to ten months, and York has had to re-evaluate its entire mental health provision.

Other universities have turned to ‘wellbeing services’, and slashed counselling – despite counselling sessions still being the “heart of the services” according to Student Health Association’s Honorary Secretary Dr Dominique Thomson.

Despite the somewhat negative outlook, Dr Thomson still stressed the importance of going to your GP: Often with psychiatric or psychological care of any kind, there’s a waiting list. It’s important for us to say to patients, look: “You’re on the list, you will be seen.” In the mean time, we offer bridging work, often with third sector organisations, like group work or a couple of one-on-one counselling sessions, that provide some level of care before they can get treated properly.”

If you are struggling with mental health, please reach out. Organisations like the Samaritans are here to help. To see how we compiled the rankings, click here.