We spoke to the producer behind the Edinburgh Uni student mental health documentary

She wants to shed light on student mental health and what the uni is doing about it

Content warning: suicide, self-harm, mental health

It’s not a secret that student mental health is at crisis point. Across the country, one student death was recorded per week last semester – with at least 39 ambulances called to campus to deal with instances of student self-harm.

Meanwhile, there have been reports of students at Edinburgh being made to wait three months to access counselling appointments. And once students have got to the top of the waitlist, they are only entitled to six appointments.

Cerys Maidment, a fourth year and producer for Edinburgh University Television (EUTV) decided to make a documentary about student mental health. Specifically, she wanted to look into the current situation of student mental health at Edinburgh and to ask: are the uni doing enough?

Presented by first year student Kate Woracker, the 25 minute long documentary is available on the EUTV Facebook page. Cerys and her team spoke to students who have been experiencing mental health difficulties during their studies at Edinburgh.  They also interviewed staff members in charge of mental health services including Colm Harmon (Vice Principal for students) and Andrew Shank (Head of Mental Health Services).

The Tab spoke to Cerys to understand what motivated her to make the documentary and what she learned.

What motivated you to make the documentary?

I’ve always been a big fan of the Vice-style youtube documentaries that are 25-30 mins long and deal with contentious issues or things that people aren’t really aware about. I came back from my year abroad and one of the promises I made when I became president was to do one of these short documentaries because EUTV has never done one before. We have the right equipment and editing skills to put one together.

Like Kate says at the beginning of the documentary, the return of students to campuses across the UK coincided with the second wave of Covid. With first years especially moving to a new city, not being able to socialise and being locked in their accommodation, I began to think about the mental health consequences this could have. The mental health services have always been a heated topic of discussion among the student population (which you see on things like Edifess, for example) so I gathered a team together and we decided to investigate further to see how the services have reacted in the past and how they’re coping with everything that’s going on at the moment.

What (if anything) is the uni doing well?

A lot of students told us that the Disability Services have been really helpful and supportive, especially through the mentoring sessions that they offer. We also heard from students who said that, despite the waiting lists being long for the mental health services, they’re considered short in comparison to NHS programmes or other counselling charities.

However, that still doesn’t justify having to wait five months to see a counsellor, as was the case for one of the students that we interviewed. I think it is also important to say that we are lucky in the UK to have mental health services offered at our universities as a lot of other countries don’t have that. We are, however, paying a lot more for our education, and if you’re going to offer services in the first place, you need to ensure that students are being cared for and not falling through the cracks when they need help.

How have your personal experiences impacted the film?

I personally have never used the mental health services, but Kate mentioned that the low student experience rating for Edinburgh was something that she really had to think about before confirming her choice. It’s like the GP says, you have to ask yourself and other students if your uni is a kind uni.

What did you learn through making the documentary?

I think the biggest thing I learned from making this documentary is how resourceful and self-sufficient students are when it comes to their mental health. One student we spoke to found a charity that was offering discounted counselling sessions in Edinburgh and a lot of people reach out to the Chaplaincy and the Disability Services as well. It was reassuring to see that there are students out there who are proactive in getting help with their mental health if the mental health services themselves are taking too long to offer support. The main point, however, is that they shouldn’t have to be doing that in the first place, or pay privately.

Having made the documentary, what advice would you give to anyone at Edinburgh struggling with their mental health?

I think this is a hard question to answer, particularly because everyone’s mental health struggles are individual to them. Different things work for different people. I’d say one of the biggest things is just to talk to someone, your family, your flatmate, friends or an anonymous voice at Nightline. Letting someone else in is a way to not feel so alone.

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh told The Tab in a statement: “Supporting our students’ mental health and wellbeing is an absolute priority – especially as we adapt to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

“There are a range of services available for all students, including the Student Counselling Service, 24/7 support from our Listening Service, and from the Students’ Association’s Advice Place. 

“We are investing further resources in our Contact Centre, whose staff are working hard to provide practical assistance to students. This includes wellbeing checks, with phone calls to offer a supportive voice for students who are self-isolating. Over the Christmas closure period, we increased capacity so that vulnerable students could also be contacted.

“We are recruiting five additional counsellors to help with the increased demand on our services. This includes two BAME counsellors who provide particular insight for issues pertinent to our BAME community.

“We are also in the process of identifying a third-party counselling provider who will enable us to call upon increased staff capacity at times of heavy demand.

“While most of the support is now online, in-person counselling can be arranged, where needed, for those students in Edinburgh. An on-the-ground team is also available to support those students staying in University accommodation.”

“Student Mental Health: Is The University of Edinburgh Doing Enough?” is available on EUTV’s Facebook Page. It was presented by Kate Woraker, produced by Cerys Maidment, edited by Nicholas Bush, researched by Nathaniel Ashley and Chloe Asquith and Kate McIntosh, and music from Michael Goessler

Related articles recommended by this writer:

Edinburgh University is introducing dedicated BAME counselling

Edinburgh University students made to wait up to 12 weeks for a counselling appointment

BREAKING: Edinburgh Uni cancels all in person graduation ceremonies this year