Exeter is the sixth best uni in the UK at dealing with mental health

Demand for counselling is on the rise


The University of Exeter has come sixth in The Tab’s inaugural 2016 mental health rankings. Exeter’s ranking is a combination of good financial support for the counselling service – second best in the UK – and good outreach to students.

However, the university’s score was pulled down by poor student satisfaction. The university finished 27th out of 30 universities, with just 35 per cent of students saying they found the university helpful. The university spends £38 per student on the counselling service, compared to the average of £21 per student, up from £18 five years ago. Only Oxford and Cambridge spend more per student. The university has increased its spending from £370,000 in 2011/12 to nearly £800,000 in 2015/16.

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.

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73 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, and 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.

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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 10 months, and York has had to re-evaluate its entire mental health provision.

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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.”

Jamie Horsley, Head of Student Services at the University of Exeter, said: “Mental health is an important and serious issue and while we welcome the recognition of our commitment to students’ mental health in your league table, it is important that we don’t oversimplify or trivialise this area of students’ lives.  We offer a wide range of support services in both our Exeter and Cornwall campuses, and work closely with the Students’ Guild and FXU to ensure these services fully support our students to study safely and successfully. As a global 100 university with excellent levels of student satisfaction, we constantly strive to continue developing our services in this area, and we take on board student feedback to ensure we provide the best service possible.”

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.