Students have given the University of Northampton’s mental health advice and counselling service a glowing endorsement at a time when it has experienced a rise in demand.
The mental health and counselling team offers students free support and advice on issues including anxiety, stress, depression, trauma and loss.
A survey has revealed 94 per cent of students who used the mental health service in 2015-16 rated it as good, very good or excellent. Ninety six per cent of students accessing the counselling service, meanwhile, rated their emotional wellbeing as poor or very poor at the start of counselling and 95 per cent rated it as good or very good at the end.
One-in-three of those who responded to the survey admitted they had considered leaving the University at the time of seeking counselling or mental health support – but after receiving support from the team, 94 per cent of them decided to stay.
Meanwhile, nine-out-of-10 mental health service users who were surveyed also felt the support they received helped to improve their academic progress.
The most common problem students experienced was anxiety, which affected around three out of 10 mental health service users and almost half of the students accessing the counselling service.
The results come at a time when the team has experienced a rise in demand: in 2014-15, 640 students used the services, compared to 697 for the following year – an increase of eight per cent.
Jo Lester, Counselling and Mental Health Team Leader, believes the rise is due to an increase in confidence in disclosing mental health difficulties when applying for a course, and in accessing support.
She also thinks campaigns tackling the stigma surrounding mental health, plus university initiatives including the annual Mental Health Day, which this year falls on Thursday 2 March, have helped students disclose their problems and seek support.
Pressure on the NHS has made the University’s service even more essential for students, according to Jo. She said: “With funding cuts to mental health services nationally, people with mental health difficulties are having to wait longer for statutory NHS services, and accessing services has become more challenging.
“This makes the service we provide at the University even more essential to supporting students in managing their mental health, so they are enabled to progress academically and achieve their qualifications.”
Many students took the opportunity to personally thank the team.
One wrote: “My advisor is such an astute practitioner with a great deal of emotional intelligence and could relate to my array of problems. He is a great listener and gave me the opportunity to completely offload through an extremely difficult time in my life. Without his input, I would have completely lost all motivation to complete my academic studies and would have just given up on everything in my life. Thanks to my advisor, my depression is subsiding and in time I shall fully recover and start a new life while I continue my studies. I cannot say enough words of thanks to the staff at the University for helping me through this bad period in my life, but I now look positively to a brighter future and the completion of my degree, which will be a dream come true.”
Another student said: “My counsellor has been a godsend, and I have little doubt that without her support I may well have had to withdraw from my studies.”
Another said: “Without it [support], I wouldn’t be on the career path I am on today.”
Jo added: “It is extremely rewarding to support students who have often experienced very challenging life events and/or are managing long-standing mental health conditions, and contribute to improving the quality of their lives and their academic and success.”
Five mental health advisors make up the University’s Mental Health Advisory Service and four counsellors work within the Counselling Service. Funding has recently been agreed for another Mental Health Advisor to join the team.
The services are free for all students, who can access up to six sessions with a counsellor of mental health advisor. Costs are met by the University, the Student Opportunity Fund and Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). DSA funds longer-term support with a mental health advisor.
The University’s annual Mental Health Day for students on Thursday will see activities based in the foyer of Rockingham Library, Park Campus, between 10am and 3pm. They will be based on the theme ‘Get active for student mental health’.
Representatives from First for Wellbeing and Changing Minds IAPT will be on hand to offer free advice and support.
The Students’ Union will also be holding two free fitness events on the day:
• Total Body Workout, midday – 1pm, Everdon Sports Hall, Park Campus
• Zumba, 5pm – 6pm, Holdenby Dance Studio, Park Campus
Pictured from left are Counsellor Natasha Clewley, Mental Health Advisors Lauren Over and Phil Turner, and Counselling and Mental Health Team Leader Jo Lester.