By Lydia Blundell
A Freedom of Information request submitted to Durham University has established that student demand for mental health support has increased during the last five academic years.
The number of undergraduate students who have had an appointment with a Mental Health Advisor has increased from 1039 to 1237 between 2013 and 2018, meaning around 1 in 11 students received and appointment last academic year. The number of scheduled appointments increased from 5382 to 6335.
During this time, the University has increased the number of Mental Health Advisors employed from 0 to 2, which does not include the provision of Counsellors and Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners.
Palatinate has previously reported that the 2017/18 academic year saw a decrease in Full Time Equivalent (FTE) counsellors from 6.2 to 5.4, with one counsellor having a provision of around 3,300 students.
However, these figures don’t tell the full story of students receiving mental health treatment and support. Palatinate understand that there are a number of Durham students that take other options available when seeking out help. Many go to private appointments in Durham whilst others take sessions when they are home or use Skype to call a therapist.
As a result of many issues such as waiting times and number of sessions available, students commonly turn to the College Welfare system.
The Senior Welfare Officer for Grey College, Rhiannon Idczak, told Palatinate: “Grey Welfare is committed to providing a service that aims to support our fellow students. In the face of increasing demand, we will continue to provide the best service we can with the limited resources and capabilities we have.”
The system in college provides weekly drop-ins for students to address any concerns, but a lack of anonymity may prevent students from making full use of this service.
Trevelyan Welfare officer, Jarren Santos, commented: “College Welfare is an essential part of the University welfare system as it is often the most accessible point of contact for students. However, with the increase in student intake this does mean that College Welfare is being continuously stretched to accommodate more students and more complex cases.”
The Counselling Service website states that counselling available from this service is time- focussed for up to four sessions, with the possibility of follow up appointments. Its website says: “You may find that one or two sessions is sufficient for you to continue without further help.”
Despite an individual tab on the website for sexual violence, students are referred to the generic counselling service for support in this area.
The Mental Health Foundation estimates that 70% of children and adolescents do not seek treatment at an early enough age, with many concerned that their problems are not sufficient enough to use such a service.
The University also has a Nightline service, with a phone number and online messaging service available from 9pm to 7am every night of term to students who wish to talk to someone about: “friends, relationships, stress, late night thoughts or anything else.”
Professor Martyn Evans, Pro-Vice- Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), said: “The wellbeing and mental health of our students and staff are hugely important to us and we invest significantly in their pastoral care.
“Our counsellors offer appointments for students facing issues that are affecting them in or away from their academic studies.
“We also support students in accessing other services, including from the NHS, charities and private practitioners.”
Photograph by Nigel Gresley