Royal Holloway students say their mental health service is one of the best in the UK

Demand for counselling is on the rise

Royal Holloway has come 15th out of 30 universities in The Tab’s inaugural 2016 Mental Health Rankings. Royal Holloway’s ranking is a combination of good student satisfaction – fifth best in the UK – and good outreach to students. 

However, the university’s score was pulled down by poor financial support for the counselling service. The university spends £17 per student on the counselling service, compared to the average of £21 per student at other universities. The university achieved one of the highest outreach scores, seventh in the UK, meaning that people feel comfortable telling the university they have a mental health problem, mitigating the lack of financial support for the counselling service. It’s telling that the university spends far less, yet gets better student satisfaction than many other top universities in the UK, indicating that RHUL students get good value for money.

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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76 per cent of students did not apply for extenuating circumstances, despite being ill. It’s a pattern reflected in almost all universities: over 86 per cent of Oxford students did the same, and the national average was 74 per cent.

The university has increased its spending on the counselling service from £137,000 to £170,000 over the past five years, keeping it’s budget comparatively low compared to other universities. Sussex, who have around 4,000 more students, spend nearly three times as much.

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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, 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 system.

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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.

A spokesperson for Royal Holloway said: “Royal Holloway, University of London is committed to providing excellent mental health & wellbeing support to all of our students. We are a safe, friendly and caring community, and try to ensure students feel supported throughout their time here. We provide assistance to students to help empower them to manage their own educational and personal progression and have a range of specialist staff available.

“The Support & Advisory Services team pride themselves on offering an extremely high level of student welfare support and have an open-door policy so students can access services at any time.  We also work with organisations such as London Nightline to provide options for out of hours support.”

Despite the somewhat negative national 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.