UK students waiting up to three months for mental health care

University data shows long delays, raising fears young people’s mental welfare will decline in the interim.

Students at the Royal College of Music had to wait 84 days to start counselling. Photograph: Phil Rowley

Students with mental health problems are being forced to wait up to 12 weeks for help from their university, prompting fears that some may take their own lives during the delay. Sir Norman Lamb, the ex-health minister who obtained the data, said such long delays for care for conditions such as anxiety and depression could prove seriously damaging to undergraduates.

Lamb said: “Twelve-week delays to start counselling are scandalous, particularly when we know that so many students are taking their own lives, that’s longer than a university term. Universities with these long waiting times need to remember that students suffering from mental health conditions very often need help as a matter of real urgency. The risk is that their mental welfare will decline even further while they wait and wait for care and support.” 

Universities have been heavily criticised for the mental health provision they offer undergraduates, as the number of them seeking help has soared in recent years. Students’ struggles can lead to them dropping out, doing poorly academically or killing themselves. An estimated 95 students in higher education took their own lives in the 12 months to July 2017 in England and Wales.

Reported student mental ill-health has increased fivefold since 2010. Research has found that one in five (22%) students has been diagnosed with a mental ailment and that even more (34%) have struggled with a psychological issue with which they felt they needed professional help.In addition, 45% use drink or drugs to help them cope with problems, 43% worry often or all the time and 9% think about self-harming often or all the time.

Responding to Lamb’s findings, Simon Thompson, CEO of Mind in Brent, Wandsworth and Westminster said: “The variance of care for this vulnerable group is worrying. Mental health support and counselling for students should be a priority for all Further Education providers. We are currently working with some of London’s leading FE providers, and know first-hand, the transformative power that successful student counselling services have. We encourage those organisations with long-wait lists and limited outcome data to reconsider their approach urgently.“

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