York is the worst uni in the UK at dealing with mental health

Embarrassingly bad


The University of York has come last in The Tab’s inaugural 2016 Mental Health Rankings. 

York’s ranking is a result of abysmal student satisfaction – just 27 per cent of students who told the university that they had a mental health problem said they had found it had helped them, the second worst in the entire UK. 

The university scored poorly on four out of the six financial measures, highlighting the previous underinvestment in the counselling service. The university now spends nearly £20 per student on the counselling service, up from £15 five years ago. York’s worst score is on how much it spends per applicant to the counselling service over the past five years, where it got the worst score of all, spending £174 per applicant.

However, despite its poor financial and satisfaction scores, the university got one of the highest outreach scores, meaning that people feel comfortable telling the university they have a mental health problem, even if they aren’t necessarily happy with how it treats them.

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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. 

74 per cent of students did not apply for extenuating circumstances, despite being ill. This reflects the national average, and it’s a pattern reflected in other top academic universities: over 86 per cent of Oxford students did the same.

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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.

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

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.

One York student The Tab spoke to said she had come for help when suicidal, only to be effectively told to come back after she’d been to hospital. In simpler terms, come back when you’ve tried to kill yourself.

Melissa, another York student, found it incredibly hard to manage at university, as a foster care leaver and as someone who had previously attempted suicide more than ten times. When she went for help, she had three sessions before she felt she was being pushed out by her counsellor, who asked her to be in contact if anything changed, despite her feeling like she still needed help:

“As a student social worker and someone who had worked in mental health I didn’t argue. I knew he was leading my case towards being closed so I just left the final appointment knowing i most likely wouldn’t be in contact. What exactly would be a significant enough change to receive the support I felt I needed?

“I’ve had an issue with accessing services since leaving care foster care as I have felt a little embarrassed to still need any support. Going to the Open Door services was a big step for me.”

A York spokesperson said:

“We are concerned the survey does not truly reflect the commitment and progress made in providing good mental health services at the University. The University is committed to ensuring all students can access good mental health services when they need them; this is demonstrated by further investment in the Open Door Team, enhanced online support and campaigns promoting student wellbeing and respectful use of social media. Students, alongside the rest of the York community, should expect to be able to access good local mental health services. We will continue to work closely with our students, YUSU, our NHS colleagues and the City of York Council to achieve this.” 

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.”

After we contacted them for comment based off of the results of the rankings, York then announced a further £500,000 investment into mental health resources over the next three years.

Names have been changed, and quotes have been condensed and edited for clarity.

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.