It’s Mental Health Awareness Day, and if you’re feeling blue at uni, you’re not alone.
It’s common knowledge that, with cuts to NHS services and increased national rates of depression, the situation regarding mental health in the UK is pretty bleak. Several surveys and articles have drawn attention to the ‘alarmingly high’ levels of mental illness among students in particular.
Historically, surveys of student mental health have focused on first years coping with the pressures of keeping up with their academic commitments while making friends, managing their finances and living independently for the first time. However, a survey of 37,500 students at 140 universities across the UK conducted by the Insight Network shows that second year students have the highest rates of anxiety and loneliness, as well as a greater likelihood of substance abuse and self-harm.
The assumption that first year students are the group most in need of support means that outreach by universities about mental health services has traditionally concentrated efforts on them. The report is frank about the damage that this assumption may cause, attributing the drop in mental health among second years to ‘the fact that support initiatives trail off after the first year … [just as] academic pressure intensifies’.
At Goldsmiths SU we believe it’s vital that students feel supported at all stages of their university life. We’ve put together a guide of the services available to students struggling with mental health difficulties, both within Goldsmiths and externally.
Mental health support at Goldsmiths
The Wellbeing Advisers are mental health specialists who provide advice and support to students who are struggling with mental health issues or other personal problems that may impact their studies.
They refer students to services within the university, such as Counselling Service and Disability Service, but can also provide advice in seeking help through external channels, such as securing therapy with the NHS.
As well as referrals, Wellbeing Advisers can also provide guidance on university regulations and processes, such as how to go about requesting a break from study or applying for extenuating circumstances.
If you’d like to see a Wellbeing Adviser, book an appointment at firstname.lastname@example.org. They also offer 15-20 minute drop in appointments at RHB 123 at the following dates and times:
- Registration 2-3.15pm
- Appointments 2.30-3.30pm
- Registration 9.30-10.15am
- Appointments 9.30-10.30am
Goldsmiths Counselling Service
Goldsmiths offers a free and confidential person-centred counselling service available to all students. Person-centred counselling focuses on how you see yourself consciously, and the therapist will cultivate a warm, open environment of acceptance.
The Goldsmiths Counselling Service is short-term; sessions last 6 weeks. Short-term counselling might be appropriate for you if there is a specific issue that you are struggling with and want to explore, such as academic stress, loneliness or a recent bereavement.
For ongoing mental health problems or conditions you may require more long-term forms of therapy. If this is the case, Goldsmiths Counselling Service will refer you to an external agency that suits your needs.
The Disability Service
If you are managing a long-term mental health difficulty you may be entitled to support from the Disability Service. Long-term mental health issues supported by the Disability Service include:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- Panic attacks
- Bipolar Disorder
If you have one of these conditions and feel that poor mental health is impacting your ability to work, you can apply for extenuating and mitigating circumstances and/or a Reasonable Adjustment Support Agreement (RASA) via the Disability Service. The team will be able to advise on how to request reasonable adjustments to your tuition, special equipment and support as well as apply for academic extensions.
The best way to contact the Disability Service is by email on email@example.com or by using their online form to book an appointment. You can also go to one of their weekly drop-in sessions, which run on Tuesdays from 11am - 12pm in RHB 123.
NHS Counselling Services
The NHS offers short-term counselling with a focus on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In CBT you will be encouraged to look at thoughts and behavioural patterns that are distressing to you and/or hinder parts of your life, and how to implement techniques that change these patterns on a day to day basis.
NHS therapy can be as short as six weeks or as long as 20, but generally it lasts around 12 weeks. The waiting list for NHS counsellors can be very long as demand is high - a common time is three months, but due to mental health cuts and pressure on the NHS, waiting times of over a year are not unheard of.
You don’t need a GP to refer you for NHS counselling - you can refer yourself, with the support of the Goldsmiths Wellbeing Adviser team if this would be helpful for you.
Private therapy is a notoriously expensive option for students on a budget. However, it is very difficult to see a therapist long-term or one that specialises in dealing with past trauma and the unconscious (such as psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapy) without doing so privately. If you are not prepared to wait months to see a counsellor, this may be your best option.
Many private therapists operate on a means-tested basis and offer reduced rates. This makes them a slightly more affordable option for those who cannot receive adequate support from the university, NHS or local charities.
Therapists often don’t advertise reduced rates on their website despite offering them, so make sure to ask when you email - many are more forthcoming when speaking one-on-one.
Advice when seeking therapy
If you’re considering having therapy, be aware that any institution that offers a specific style of therapy will understandably be biased in favour of that style (for instance, expect NHS doctors to recommend CBT).
Also bear in mind that not all styles of therapy are equally effective at treating all conditions. For instance, classic cognitive behavioural therapy techniques are widely and successfully used to manage anxiety, but are far less effective at dealing with bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
Read up on different therapy techniques and schools of thought yourself and go to a therapist whose techniques are well suited to the issues you are facing. Doctors and advisers are excellent sources of information.
Other helpful resources to improve your mental health
If you’re looking for a way of learning new techniques to manage stress and anxiety, without the hassle and potential expense of applying for therapy, there are a wide range of mindfulness and meditation apps available.
Mindfulness practice incorporates some of the same principles as CBT - increasing your awareness of negative thought patterns throughout the day and giving you techniques to deal with them - and is easily and readily accessible.
TFL are currently providing 2 months free premium access to Headspace, a mindfulness app that includes hundreds of meditations to deal with depression, anxiety and insomnia as well as specially designed mindfulness aids to be used when commuting. You can also check out TFL’s blog post for tips on how to practice mindfulness when out and about in London.