What is the Vice-Chancellor doing about mental health?
Is this good enough?
The VC has pledged to take on a changes to mental health support in a Portal 'Student News' announcement sent to all students last week. The statement details a new 'task-force' initiative, and lists the names of of those involved in the task-force, which is certainly an important thing for students to know.
What do students think of it?
Flora Wheeler, who protested outside the Vice-Chancellor's office last term, criticises "the total lack of staff Union involvement in the task-force", drawing attention to the fact that "many staff are concerned about their own mental health and the lack of support available, and that academic advisers are now asked to further support student mental health when this is neither their expertise nor necessarily suitable for them as people."
The VC provides five bullet points about the changes they are making, the first of which is, "looking at the style and wording of letters to students from the University."
Perhaps the biggest change they have made is that, "the budget for student support has been increased and the recruitment of additional advisers/counsellors is underway." This is undoubtedly a positive thing as a budget increase and additional counsellors were both emphasised by students in the mental health discussions before Easter.
However, Lucy Caradog, a final year literature student notes: "Although they say they're recruiting more people, they don't mention whether those people will specialise in specific fields."
Flora Wheeler, tells The Norwich Tab: "They state recruitment for additional advisers and counsellors is underway; why have we not been told how many counselling staff are due to be hired? Counselling staff were cut from 29 in 2016/17 to 20 in 2017/18 – with no increase for the 18/19 academic year.
"Given that student intake increases annually, as does demand on the counselling service, will staff numbers be properly increased to reflect that, and to undo the damage of a nearly one/third cut two years ago and the loss of placement counsellors following the scrapping of the postgrad counselling degrees?"
The VC notes that they are "peer reviewing waiting times and management processes in Student Support services." However, Wheeler tells the Norwich Tab: "Peer review of waiting times may be a step in the right direction, but as per multiple FOI requests for waiting times data, the university does not record this. Irresponsibly long waiting times are a major issue with the service. It is the problem most frequently mentioned by students speaking to us about their SSS experiences."
She adds: "The student body deserves to know what the average waiting times are. The university stopped recording waiting times for counselling services in 2013, where waiting times were at an average of 28 days. Many current students have told us wait-times of four months. Peer review is not enough and current waiting times are unacceptable."
The VC also states that they are "introducing a new 'Welcome Week' to better help students adapt to starting life at UEA from September 2020." Regarding this, Caradog notes: "The Welcome Week thing is a good idea but I think it shouldn't just be in September." She suggests "devoting weeks through the year to it" as a potential solution rather than just prioritising mental health on Welcome Week.
The final point the VC makes is: "UEA is also working with Norfolk County Council Public Health, the NHS, the SU, and other agencies to help shape our plans for mental health and wellbeing." This does suggest that action is being taken and they are taking into account specialist opinions, however, why was this not already the case?
This student response is perhaps best summarised by Caradog, who stated: "I'm really glad that they are trying to improve, but I feel like the stuff outlined here isn't really enough."
Norwich Nightline is available between 8pm to 8am every term time night on 01603 597158. The Samaritans helpline can be contacted on 116 123. The UEA Student Support Services can be contacted on 01603 592761 and firstname.lastname@example.org