MORE STUDENTS SEEK MENTAL HEALTH HELP
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