Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - ABBIE WIGHTWICK Ed­u­ca­tion Edi­tor ab­biewightwick@waleson­

S URG­ING num­bers of stu­dents are seek­ing help from men­tal health and coun­selling ser­vices at Welsh universities. One univer­sity di­rec­tor of stu­dent ser­vices said young peo­ple now are less re­silient than in the past, putting an “un­ex­pected de­mand on sup­port ser­vices”.

At Swansea Univer­sity the num­ber of stu­dents see­ing its well-be­ing and sup­port ser­vices soared more than 21 times from 80 in 2011 to 1,700 in 2016, Kevin Child, di­rec­tor of stu­dent ser­vices, said.

Cardiff Univer­sity said num­bers us­ing its coun­selling and well-be­ing ser­vices rose more than three times from 1,187 in 2013 to 3,694 in 2016-17.

Aberys­t­wyth and Cardiff Metropoli­tan universities re­ported a rise, but did not give fig­ures.

In­sti­tu­tions said the in­crease was caused by fac­tors in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial and study worries, but also re­flected the suc­cess of their proac­tive men­tal health ser­vices and less stigma.

A report this week from the Institute for Pub­lic Pol­icy Re­search said mil­len­nial stu­dents were more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence a men­tal health prob­lem cit­ing is­sues such as loans, in­creased pres­sure to get a top de­gree in an increasingly competitive jobs mar­ket and ex­ces­sive use of so­cial me­dia af­fect­ing self es­teem.

Five times as many univer­sity stu­dents in the UK dis­close a men­tal health con­di­tion than 10 years ago, the report adds.

Mr Child said: “A more re­cent chal­lenge for the whole higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor has been a recog­nised lack of re­silience in young peo­ple com­ing into univer­sity, seem­ingly less well prepared to be able to meet the high de­mands and ex­pec­ta­tions of aca­demic study at this level, along with the re­quire­ment to “fend for them­selves” away from the pro­tec­tive family en­vi­ron­ment.

“This is much harder to plan for as this lack of re­silience can lead to ‘lower level’ stresses (home­sick­ness, in­abil­ity to make friends eas­ily and quickly, pres­sured time lim­its for as­sess­ments etc) which if not iden­ti­fied can de­velop into men­tal health is­sues. This re­sults in an in­creas­ing and un­ex­pected de­mand on sup­port ser­vices.”

He said Swansea has launched strate­gies such as its Stu­dent Life Net­work which trains per­sonal tu­tors to iden­tify early signs of stress.

“We are work­ing to roll out a num­ber of pro­grammes fo­cus­ing on mind­ful­ness and re­silience build­ing. Over the last two years we have man­aged to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease our coun­selling pro­vi­sion, so that wait­ing times have been re­duced,” Mr Child added.

“De­mand is likely to con­tinue to in­crease but as an in­sti­tu­tion we are fo­cused on the chal­lenges our stu­dents and the univer­sity as a whole face in this area.”

Ben Lewis, di­rec­tor of stu­dent sup­port and well-be­ing at Cardiff Univer­sity, said: “There are many com­plex rea­sons for the growth in de­mand for stu­dent sup­port at universities in the UK and beyond. These range from greater will­ing­ness to talk about men­tal health, ac­cess to sup­port be­fore univer­sity and other pressures.”

Mr Lewis, a mem­ber of the Universities UK Men­tal Health in Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Group, said Cardiff of­fered a range of “con­fi­den­tial award-win­ning and in­no­va­tive health and well-be­ing ser­vices for stu­dents” in­clud­ing 100 Stu­dent Well­be­ing Cham­pi­ons who work with stu­dents.

“Since 2013 we have in­tro­duced a num­ber of changes to our ap­proach to the sup­port we pro­vide to stu­dents. Like all UK universities we are see­ing a change in de­mand for ser­vices we pro­vide and cases are be­com­ing more com­plex.

“In 2013 our coun­selling and well-be­ing ser­vices saw 1,887 stu­dents, in 2016-17 they saw 3,694 stu­dents.

“Changes we have made dur­ing this time are about in­creas­ing ca­pac­ity and ac­cess to sup­port ser­vices, and seek­ing to en­gage with stu­dents sooner. This means we are see­ing more stu­dents and help­ing them in a greater va­ri­ety of ways. The growth in the num­bers of stu- dents we are see­ing, in part, proves this.”

Aberys­t­wyth Univer­sity said: “Health and well-be­ing of stu­dents is ex­tremely im­por­tant to us and we have a team of ded­i­cated staff work­ing in stu­dent sup­port ser­vices.

“The well-be­ing ser­vice we of­fer fo­cuses on sup­port­ing stu­dents to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their well­be­ing and de­velop self-re­liance and au­ton­omy. We work with them to build re­silience and de­velop skills to help them man­age their lives at univer­sity and beyond.

“Fo­cus is on sup­port­ing stu­dents with is­sues specif­i­cally related to be­ing a stu­dent, which can in­clude home­sick­ness, anx­i­ety linked to the de­mands of aca­demic life, build­ing new re­la­tion­ships, con­fi­dence build­ing and self-es­teem, bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment, self-harm, and fi­nances.

“We have seen a rise in re­cent years in the num­ber of stu­dents dis­clos­ing men­tal health dif­fi­cul­ties be­fore com­ing to univer­sity. There are a num­ber of rea­sons for this in­crease, in­clud­ing the fact that stu­dents may be more ready to dis­close or that there is now less stigma around the is­sue.”

Cardiff Met Univer­sity said: “The num­ber of cases has risen sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years. There is no ques­tion de­mand for men­tal health sup­port is in­creas­ing among our stu­dent pop­u­la­tion, both for men­tal health sup­port and a huge va­ri­ety of coun­selling ser­vices.

“It is im­pos­si­ble to iden­tify any sin­gle cause for the in­crease, but we have worked hard to re­duce stigma around dis­cussing men­tal health to en­sure our stu­dents feel com­fort­able ask­ing for help.”

Wrex­ham Glyn­dwr Univer­sity said it of­fers cour­ses – such as Liv­ing Life to the Full – to sup­port stu­dent wel­fare.

The num­ber of stu­dents see­ing well-be­ing and sup­port ser­vices has in­creased in Welsh universities

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