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Inside Stirling’s mental health crisis

Several Stirling students have expressed disappointment at the standard of mental health care at the University in an independent anonymous survey by Brig.

The quality of mental health services at Stirling is a conversation prominent amongst the student body and the state of student support services are a major topic for the student union.

Throughout the recent union elections, questions were raised highlighting concerns that the standard of service available may not be good enough. Yet, it is important to consider how difficult it is for these services with funding cuts and lack of resources.

Currently, Student Services offers a range of mental health services, with proof of a mental disorder from the doctor you can get ARUAA for the rest of your time spent at university.

The university defines ARUAA as “a formal record of reasonable adjustments which are recommended to support a disabled student by offering exam and assessment support.”

The ARUAA does not disclose the nature of a student’s disability, simply the adjustments recommended by the Disability Adviser. Not having to re-apply every year is a vital service for students already dealing with anxiety and other disorders.

Further improvements in the past year has seen the creation of the ‘wellness zone’  in the short-term library, an initiative lead by the Mental Well-being Society, which is a peaceful zone for students to read, study or just chill out.

Brig reached out to some students who have had experiences with Student Services and mental health at the university for better insight. Eight anonymous responses are listed below:

Second year student said,

“I was in the middle of a break down when my lecturer approached me and recommended I seek help from a counsellor. I had no idea what to do, who to talk to or what it would all even mean. Nothing had ever really been explained to me about the mental health services at the University.

“I was terrified: I had assumed I was just having a bad semester. So, I didn’t mind the months of waiting to see someone. What I do mind is being told after my first and only session that I was a medium risk and that someone would be assigned to me, only to be left in the lurch. I didn’t know what that meant, and I was so scared about the implications.

“I have been left waiting for weeks after a stranger told me that I needed immediate help, paranoid that I might do something to myself or that I might need to drop out. I don’t know what’s scarier: being told something is wrong with me or having to wait months to figure what that means by myself.”

Fourth year student said,
“Pretty much the reason I didn’t access student services is because I felt embarrassed. I was quite well known within the university at the time, known for being outgoing and confident. I didn’t feel like I could go and speak to someone without being known. Looking back that was definitely a personal issue and I could have gotten the support, but at the time it was really hard for me to admit that something wasn’t quite right”
Eventually admitted it to myself, but couldn’t bring myself to admit it to others. It was hard to remove that existing personality that everyone knew and be honest about how things were”

Second year student said,

“Over the last few months, the help I have received from Student Support Services has been phenomenal. Due to the severity of my personal circumstances recently, I was fast-tracked through the system; I was assigned to a counsellor within a matter of weeks, where I received six sessions of emergency counselling.

“I was also informed of stress relief sessions and other programmes provided by the university to support students. More recently, I attended my needs assessment, and have since been assigned a mental health mentor. This has all occurred in less than fourth months, and has allowed me to feel supported, accepted and understood in the Stirling University community.”

“However, in receiving this support I would consider myself to be one of the ‘lucky few’. I have friends who are experiencing circumstances similar to mine, however they have had little to no communication from student support services and feel that they have not been supported by the university.

“While I have been fast-tracked, there have been plenty of students struggling with either their academic or personal lives, who are not receiving the support that they desperately need. While the university has support systems in place, they still need to be vastly improved in order to accommodate the needs of all students.”

Another student said,

“I was in a situation where things were quite drastic; I had initially visited the GP who tried to book me in with a counsellor straightaway. They done so but even in my case, which they considered drastic, it took two weeks for me to actually meet with a counsellor. After meeting the counsellor everything went great and I couldn’t complain with the experience, however, the waiting time is certainly an issue.”

A third year student said,

“The first go round was alright, although when I tried to reapply in second year the mental health services team kept delaying my appointment / changing the appointment time / telling me I missed an appointment that they didn’t tell me about”

Another student said,

“It was very poor. The only appointments I ever received were cancelled ones and if I couldn’t make them then that was tough luck.”

A second year student said,

“Willing to aid more than the previous university I was at but is currently taking a long time to respond when it becomes an issue again.”

Another student said,

“I waited almost 2 months before I could get one and as I said, they were only cancelled ones. My mental health didn’t feel valued by the university.”

Hope Murray, the Health and Well-being officer, said that current waiting times are “totally unacceptable.”

“The current mental health services offered by the university are good but are massively under-sourced, the services could be improved by providing a mechanism that students can access before they reach crisis point.”

She added: “This could possibly be a peer support group run by a counsellor, meaning that students get support whilst waiting on more individualised support tailored to their specific needs but recognising the universities limited resources so maximising their outreach.”

During the elections, a lot of candidates have spoken about mental health support in the university and it will be a key part of any sabbatical’s role throughout the year.

Joshua Muirhead, who was recently elected VP Communities expanded on the part of his manifesto that focused on mental health and on mental well-being:

“Plans for mental health as a part of my manifesto is to run a year-long campaign for students to look out for students, knowing the signs to look out for when peers are struggling with mental health and being able to reach out and let the right people know.”

“The mental health services need greatly reformed when you think about the ten-week minimum waiting list that’s the quoted time, but realistically students are looking six months before they get a reply and sometimes not even getting a reply at all.

“They’re only looking for two things really, if you’re going to tick on the form: are you thinking of dropping out of university or are you going to hurt yourself.”

“We need more counsellors, and it’s easy to say we need more more more when we have no money but we really do at this point it’s getting pathetically dangerous with the rise of depression and suicide in student communities, especially amongst teachers and nurses.

“They are struggling especially because the support isn’t there and they are out on placement at the same time as doing all their university work. The reform needs to be student-led, with the collaboration of the union, the university.”

Most problems appear to stem from people becoming completely hopeless regarding seeking help from either waiting a long time, hearing once, then never again which can be a stressful thing for someone already experiencing a breakdown.

It is difficult as the university is doing as much as it can, for example, getting six new councillors this semester, but it still does not seem to be enough.

Head of Student Guidance and Wellbeing at the University, said:

“Student Support Services offers students various different means to support and enhance their emotional wellbeing. We have two Student Advisers (Mental Health and Wellbeing) who manage a team of Mental Health Mentors that students with a diagnosed mental health condition can access, as well as an Assistant Adviser (Mental Health and Wellbeing) who offers a Wellbeing Clinic every week, and a team of student counsellors.”

“Like most counselling services within the sector in Scotland and across the UK, there is ever-increasing high demand for student counselling. Our waiting list is carefully triaged each day to ensure that the students who require more urgent support receive this quickly.” 

“We also provide cognitive behavioural therapy Stress Control classes, which are available to all of our students and specifically those who are waiting for counselling, which provide tools and techniques to combat anxiety and depression.

“Further information on student support, including opening times and out of hours services, can be found on the Student Services Hub webpages. Students can also access support from the Students’ Union.”

If you need help contact Samaritans on 116 123 for free or visit https://www.samaritans.org/?nation=scotland

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