The wait for Wellbeing

The wait for Wellbeing

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Image credit: Niklas Rahmel
Image credit: Niklas Rahmel

An exclusive investigation by Exeposé has shown that a dramatic increase in the number of Exeter students seeking support for mental health issues has led to the University’s Wellbeing Services being granted emergency additional funding. The funding has been granted amidst students complaining of long waiting times, with one student claiming that they waited up to a year for ongoing support after their initial contact with the Centre.

718 students contacted the Wellbeing Services last term to seek support. This is compared to 517 students that contacted the Wellbeing Centre in term one of the 2012/13 academic year, indicating a 38.8 per cent increase in the number of students contacting the service. 2,324 appointments in total were issued, an increase of approximately 700 appointments compared to the same period the previous year.

This increase in students struggling with mental health related issues at Exeter has also been seen by both the Student Health Centre and the Students’ Guild Advice Unit. A representative of the Student Health Centre told Exeposé that there has been “a noticeable increase in mental health cases [last] term, including severe and complex cases”. The Students’ Guild Advice Unit, which provides students with practical information and support on funding, housing and academic-related matters, confirmed that they had also seen an increase in the number of students seeking support where a mental health issue was contributing to their situation.

The increase in Exeter students requiring consultation on issues on mental wellbeing is in line with a national trend amongst students. An NUS study from May 2013 revealed that 20 per cent of students consider themselves to have a mental health problem, while 13 per cent claimed to have had suicidal thoughts.

The study, which questioned 1,200 students, said that 92 per cent of respondents identified as having had feelings of mental distress, which often includes feeling down, stressed, or demotivated. 74 per cent of respondents who experience feelings of mental distress experienced them at least once a month, with almost a third admitting to feeling like this every week.

65 per cent of respondents who experienced mental health problems cited coursework deadlines as triggers of distress, while 54 per cent mentioned exams. 47 per cent also mentioned financial difficulties, while 27 per cent were worried about “fitting in”, with 22 per cent being concerned with homesickness.

Last term, Exeter’s increase in demand for support relating to mental health led to a serious delay in the waiting times for the Wellbeing Services on campus. Although the Wellbeing Centre aims to see all students for their initial assessment within one to two weeks of their referral, some students waiting for a Wellbeing assessment were forced to wait for three weeks or more during term one. Those waiting for mental health initial assessments had to wait for up to six weeks for their first appointment.

After receiving an initial assessment, students had to wait on average for three and a half weeks before they could access ongoing support. According to Wellbeing Centre records, the longest any student had to wait between initial assessment and ongoing support was 31 days.

However, multiple students have reported a much longer waiting period and, worryingly, noted the negative impact of this. One student who wished to remain anonymous told Exeposé: “I had to wait for about a month before my initial consultation and then waited for another extended period of time after being referred for a series of counselling sessions across the term. I found the counselling itself extremely effective and overall had a positive experience. However, at points during the waiting period, I did wonder if I had been forgotten or lost in the system due to the length of time between my consultation and the counselling beginning. I feel that had the issue been more urgent, it would have been exacerbated by the slow process”.

Another student told Exeposé: “My doctor diagnosed me with major depression and began my course of antidepressants. She said they were best accompanied with, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy available at the Wellbeing Centre. Having contacted the Centre, the wait was long. I felt thoroughly let down and dislocated. After my mental health assessment, there was another three week wait to start CBT. The idea of having to wait again for treatment put me off and I have not returned to the Wellness Centre. Instead, I’ve been able to steadily continue increasing my dosage as a coping mechanism to compensate”.

The additional funding to the Wellbeing Centre, granted as a rare in-term increase, has led to the employment of two new permanent staff members, additional group support sessions and the consolidation of the Risk Assessment and Focus Triage (RAFT) unit, a service to provide immediate support to those who are severely distressed.

The Wellbeing Centre has also reconfigured its services in order to be able to cope with the increase in demand. As well as counselling, the Wellbeing Services also offer a series of therapies, such as CBT, to address a range of mental health issues, including stress, anxiety and depression. In light of the increase in demand, the Centre is providing an increased number of short-notice appointments, online support and one-off group sessions on student focussed issues that anyone can attend.

A University spokesperson said: “The University takes a holistic approach to student welfare and provides a comprehensive package of services that students can access, which go far beyond purely academic support; the Wellbeing Centre is just one of these. However, we understand that it is an important part of our total offer and, once we recognised that there had been a significant increase in demand for this service, we put in place additional resources to support it”.

Chris Rootkin, VP Welfare and Community, who has pushed for improvements to the Wellbeing Services, told Exeposé: “I am pleased that the University has recognised the urgency of this situation and has responded quickly to the need for additional funding to meet the needs of students. It is important, however, that the University continues to recognise the increasing demand for mental health support beyond this year, as this appears to be a nationwide trend that is likely to continue”.

Any students who feel affected by issues raised in this article are urged to contact the University’s Wellbeing Centre, or national medical services.

Meg Drewett, Editor. Additional reporting by Owen Keating 

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