Students have given the University of Northampton’s mental health support team a glowing endorsement at a time when the services have experienced a significant rise in users.
The Mental Health Advice and Counselling team offers students free support and advice on issues including anxiety, stress, depression, trauma and loss.
A survey has revealed 90 per cent of students who used the mental health service in 2014-15 rated it as very good or excellent. Half of those surveyed admitted they had considered leaving the University, but 88 per cent of those decided to stay because of the support their received from the team.
The results come at a time when the team has experienced increasing demand: in 2014-15, 640 students used the service, compared to 574 the previous academic year – a jump of 11 per cent.
Nationally, universities have experienced a rise in the number of students reporting a mental health problem. In July, the Times Higher Education reported that nearly 18,000 students at English Higher Education providers said that they had a mental health problem in 2012-13, compared with fewer than 8,000 in 2008-09*.
Jo Lester, Counselling and Mental Health Team Leader, said: “We believe the rise is due to an increase in confidence in disclosing mental health difficulties when applying for a course, and in accessing support.
“In 1997, just two students disclosed issues on application, compared to 128 in August 2015.”
Jo also believes campaigns tackling the stigma surrounding mental health, plus University initiatives including its annual Mental Health and Wellbeing Day 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: “With austerity measures and 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.”
When completing the 2014-15 satisfaction survey, many students took the opportunity to personally thank the team.
One wrote: “I didn’t really know what I was hoping for when I first contacted the MHA service, but I felt defeated, depressed and was behind on all my work. I normally have trouble asking for help off anyone, so contacting the MHA felt like a desperate last chance before I quit University. My advisor helped me more than I ever expected, not only helping me regain my confidence but giving me opportunities, life lessons and helping me to communicate with my tutors, parents. They also helped me get in contact with a specialist service that I didn’t even know was so close by, so I could finally start the medication I’d been wanting to try for years but never known how to take the first step. I’m on a completely new and exciting path and I couldn’t have done it without her. I still find her advice invaluable and I feel more hopeful about restarting my final year and less anxious knowing I’ve got support.”
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.
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.
* Source: Times Higher Education.