Exclusive: Student with anxiety and depression ‘told by Sheffield Uni health service to try yoga and eat vegetables’
‘They pushed me to breaking point’
The Uni of Sheffield's campus GP has apologised after a graduate said she was prescribed yoga and vegetables for severe mental health issues.
Sarah was in a dark place when she reached out to University Health Service (UHS) at Sheffield Uni for help, but says an NHS doctor pushed her to "breaking point".
The 27-year-old, who now works in higher education in Oxford, says seeing Britain's student mental health crisis first hand made her want to go public with her story. She fears vulnerable students at the uni are being put "in danger".
It comes as new data reveals Bristol, Edinburgh and Northumbria universities are making students wait more than a month on average for counselling.
Sarah was an English Literature undergraduate when she first reached out to UHS in 2012 with symptoms of severe anxiety and depression. UHS is one of three routes for mental health support at Sheffield Uni, alongside University Counselling Service and the SU's central welfare support team. Sarah never received counselling.
'I left the appointment in tears'
Her problems began when she booked an appointment with a UHS doctor, who is still working at the practice.
She told The Sheffield Tab: "He told me I can't be mentally ill because if people are mentally ill they don’t know it so they don’t seek help.
"He made me attend some stress workshops and told me to do yoga and eat some vegetables. He dismissed my worries and said it was just down to uni stress."
Sarah attended the suggested meditation workshops following the appointment, but soon found her mental health rapidly deteriorating and following graduation she became "really unwell".
She began a masters at UoS in English Literature in 2015, and confided in UHS to help her once more.
By this point, she was on anti-depressants for the stress induced by her heart condition. She claims the same UHS doctor insensitively questioned why she was taking the drugs.
"I ended up leaving that appointment without my referral and in tears and refused to see him again," she said.
"The receptionist asked me in a knowing way if he had ‘upset’ me which suggests to me he has done this before."
She accuses UHS of leaving her humiliated and distressed, such that her course of anti-depressants had to be extended and she "turned her back" on seeking help for the remainder of her time at university.
'I was put off asking for help'
It comes amid a growing focus on universities duty of care around mental health, as official figures show one UK student dies by suicide about every four days – with mental health issues especially rife among freshers. Since 2013, nine Uni of Sheffield students have died by suicide.
UHS said in a statement that the doctor in question was "a popular and highly respected member" of the practice, but Sarah worries he is letting other vulnerable students down.
"Because one of the issues I suffer with is anxiety, the experience I had with the UHS doctor put me off seeking help until I hit breaking point," Sarah explained.
"I think his attitude toward mental health is just really unhelpful – he never made me feel like I was being listened to, no empathy, just the assumption I was struggling with my course when actually I had some quite complex personal issues going on both at home and at uni. He's a danger to other students."
Sarah says she was advised by a university counsellor at the time to lodge a formal complaint with the NHS over her experience with University Health Service, but decided not to pursue it.
A UHS spokesperson said: “We are sorry to hear that this patient was dissatisfied with our service. It is regrettable that we were not made aware of this patient’s concerns at the time, as we take all complaints very seriously and use them as an opportunity to reflect on and inform service improvements.
“While we are unable to comment on this particular patient's experience, there is a strong evidence base for GPs to suggest exercise and other relaxation techniques in the management of depression and anxiety as such lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing, sometimes removing the need for medication.
“The GP in question is a popular and highly respected member of the team who has been working at the practice for over 15 years and consistently receives positive feedback about his performance.”
Mental health support in Sheffield
For Sheffield University students, you can register for individual counselling or group therapy sessions with the University Counselling Service (UCS) here. Sheffield Hallam students can discuss personal issues by registering and making an appointment with the Student Wellbeing Service here.
Sheffield Samaritans – call 116123 (freephone) or email [email protected]
Hopeline UK – call 0800 068 4141
Nightline – call 0114 22 (28787) or email [email protected]
University Security Service – call 0114 222 4085