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The Garden of Live Flowers

Your first real taste of independence, feeling cut off and alone, a time of partying, spending too much money, meeting loads of new people, drama and isolation, studying something you love and opening doors, pressure to succeed, sleepless nights, never ending deadlines, ‘the greatest years of our lives’. University is that weird Aunt at Christmas that tries to interrogate you about every aspect of your life, making your palms sweaty and causing you to re-evaluate your existence, but she slips you a tenner so you soldier on.

the lord is testing me

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, 1 in 4 students will suffer from at least one form of mental health issue, ranging from: depression, anxiety, an eating disorder or behavioural and learning difficulty during their time at university. And the other ¾’s will probably experience home sickness, serious stress or financial worries, or know someone who is suffering.

So, what does QM do to support us?

Well, I’ll start with the good, there are definitely a range of services, they offer:

  • One to one talking therapy
  • Group sessions
  • A weekly Drug and Alcohol clinic
  • Arranging psychiatric assessments
  • Careers Sessions
  • Welfare advisors
  • CBT
  • A Buddy system
  • Helpful links and contacts e.g. Samaritans info

I’ve found the talking sessions the most helpful, they just feel like a chat, my councillor seemed really understanding and also gave me advice and steps to improve my mental health that I didn’t consider. It would seem I’m not alone in thinking this, as, on their website the service reels off a plethora of statistics to showcase their ‘success’. According to their study in 2014/15 (a bit out of date in my opinion – and it also doesn’t say how many the survey asked – could have been 10, 20, 100 or 3):

  • 87% rated our website as excellent or good
  • 97% rated their overall experience of the Advice and Counselling Service reception as excellent or good
  • 87% were satisfied with the time they had to wait to see a counsellor or welfare adviser
  • 86-95% agreed their counsellor or welfare adviser was skilled and competent, professional, easy to talk to, reliable and trustworthy
  • 95% felt that to some extent obtaining welfare advice or counselling improved their overall experience of university
  • 70% felt that to some extent obtaining welfare advice or counselling helped them to stay at university
  • 92% rated their overall experience of the Advice and Counselling Service as excellent or good
  • 85% would use the Advice and Counselling Service again in the future if they needed to
  • 91% of students who had counselling or welfare advice would recommend the service to their friends

However, although it is clear that in this survey there was no issue with the wait to get an appointment, I’ve personally found the minimum two weeks waiting to be a bit lacklustre, and inadequate if someone requires immediate support from the university. Of course, if it was a crisis then there are external channels – I will investigate these in the coming week – to try. Or you might be lucky and get a walk-in appointment.

Worryingly, did any of you actually know about the variety? Whenever my housemates discuss what there is on offer, the natural assumption is that, there are counsellors for mental health and advisors for day-to-day issues, like careers or money. There is no recognition of the breadth. Oh, and they have a Twitter account apparently?!

I don’t think there is anywhere near enough awareness regarding the programmes and the various ways to access them. And oh god, their video on the website, although clearly with the best intentions, involves an ominous voice from above and animations with jelly bean people. I mean what would be the point in using actual students? Honestly, watch it and see, if like me, you felt like you were five again and that your problem was that you had a boo boo.

My main issue is the four or six session cap. I’m, shockingly, quite shy and struggle to open up and it took nearly all of these sessions for me to be able to build up a relationship with my councillor and start discussing my feelings. I began to talk and feel some improvement, and then this newfound stability, security and support was gone. This had previously interrupted my recovery as it threw me, I kind of, completely, reversed back to my original state, and there was the draining prospect of having to try and go through the same thing again with another person.

Rachel Flynn, a student at Edinburgh University, wrote the article ‘Mental health services at university must improve’, http://www.studentnewspaper.org/mental-health-services-at-university-must-improve/, for the student media platform, Student Newspaper. Similarly to myself, she stressed the problem of long waiting times, but her main argument, like mine, concluded, ‘The undeniable truth about mental illness is that there is no quick-fix solution: the time devoted to help is arguably more vital than the help itself, so the four sessions that Edinburgh offers is a far from satisfactory solution.’ Thus, she infers that it is unsurprising that student satisfaction is low, with many feeling overlooked. Her example of a university doing it right was the University of Sussex, it has a £456,000 counselling services budget, while Edinburgh’s was less than £200,000 (I’m working on finding out QM’s), and boasting a 4.05/5 student satisfaction rating.

She also stressed the long-term implications of slow, disruptive and short term aid, ‘with a poor pastoral service not offering obvious places to turn, students are more likely to pass off a panic attack as ‘having a bad day’ rather than what can be a serious illness with the power to shape your quality of life.’

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to explain the various societies at QM offering advice and volunteering opportunities regarding mental health, local services and volunteering, the ways in which QM could improve its schemes, the organisations trying to implement these improvements, and how we can make those changes happen.

At the end of the day, to quote Rachel Flynn again, ‘It is not only the change that we need, but that we deserve.’

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