AN EXETER student has spoken out about the lack of mental health support available at the University after being forced to drop-out.
Sophie Harrison, a third year English student, has criticised the lengthy waiting times in Exeter and how her life was at risk as a result. Harrison, who suffers with anorexia nervosa and anxiety, was forced to drop-out of University in December 2015 and defer the remainder of her third year in order to seek treatment elsewhere.
Speaking exclusively to Exeposé, she describes her support from the mental health services in Exeter as being “defined by continual stop-signs”. Harrison said: “When I realised I needed more support in second year, it took six weeks between the point of referral and my first consultation. From here, it was another month before I was assigned a care-coordinator.”
Due to the lack of specialised eating disorder staff, once Harrison was assigned a care-coordinator she describes the support given as “very limited”. She recalls meeting her care-coordinator only three times in a term and the advice given included “go for a run after meals to reduce anxiety”.
After a nine-month wait for psychological therapy in Exeter, Harrison received a letter informing her that she was still on the waiting list. Knowing she required specialist support, she was forced to register with her GP in her home catchment of Somerset. She describes how her care-coordinator at home “couldn’t be more different from the one in Exeter” as she has now been successfully referred to an inpatient treatment unit in Bristol.
Sophie Harrison’s experience is not an isolated case. Hannah Butler, a third year English and German student, suffered with anorexia and depression and was ultimately forced to seek private help. She told Exeposé: “My doctor told me not to bother with the Wellbeing Centre because the wait was too long…It’s scary how many students have to rely on the NHS. If I’d had to, I probably wouldn’t be at uni anymore.” Butler continued: “The Wellbeing Centre does a brilliant job when you can finally get help… but that’s absolutely no comfort when you’re struggling to get from day-to-day.”
Over the past four years student demand has increased in excess of 60 per cent for the Wellbeing Centre, according to Jamie Horsley, Head of Student Services. In line with increased demand, the University funding contribution to student counselling has increased by 75 per cent since 2012. The Service has recently entered into a partnership with Depression and Anxiety Services whereby NHS staff can also be accessed at the Wellbeing Centre, however this service is only available one day a week.
When asked about whether the Wellbeing Service requires expansion, Jamie Horsley, Head of Student Services, said: “The Wellbeing Services provides general support to help students in their studies; anorexia is a serious health condition and often needs specialist, longer-term treatment and support.”
Horsley added: “Wellbeing Services is hoping to provide more targeted support for students with less severe eating disorders and are in discussion with the local NHS Trust to consider alternative ways of providing support for students with less complex difficulties. Additionally, the team are in advanced discussion with the Guild regarding the development of a peer-led support group for students with eating disorders.”
Updating Exeposé on her progress, Sophie Harrison said: “I am currently midway through my admission at the Eating Disorders Unit in Bristol, but know if I had stayed with the services in Exeter the story would be very different.”