Deliver promised counsellors to students waiting for mental health support, @ScotGov urged

Following reports of students waiting weeks for mental health services, NUS Scotland has called upon the Scottish Government to fulfil its promise of 80 new professional counsellors

  • Data gathered by former health secretary Norman Lamb finds some Scottish students waiting up to 57 days for counselling, and 112 days for cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Lamb’s findings follows reports of skyrocketing demand for mental health services in Scottish colleges and universities
  • While last year’s Programme for Government promised 80 new mental health counsellors for higher and further education in Scotland, none have taken up their positions as yet
  • NUS Scotland president Liam McCabe: “There is a clear mental health crisis across our institutions”

THE National Union of Students Scotland has reiterated its call on the Scottish Government to deliver on its promise of 80 new counsellors for Scotland’s colleges and universities, following the release of new data showing that many UK students are forced to wait weeks before receiving mental health support.

From the data collected pertaining to Scottish universities, students at the University of the West of Scotland seeking mental health support had to wait an average of only 8.4 days, while students at the University of Stirling had to wait an average of 21. Although the average for Edinburgh Napier was 25 days, the data also found that some Napier students waited for up to 57 days for counselling, and 112 days to begin cognitive behavioural therapy.

In addition to extended waiting times for mental health services, the data also revealed that over three quarters of the British universities surveyed were unable to provide information on the longest waiting periods to access counselling, despite 75 per cent of universities experiencing an increase in engagement with counselling services between 2014-15 and 2017-18.

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Liberal Democrat MP and former health minister Norman Lamb, who gathered the data via Freedom of Information requests, has argued in favour of a charter, enshrined in legislation, “which guarantees students' rights to access mental health care and requires universities to take action on suicide prevention."  

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Lamb said: “It’s extraordinary that some universities are subjecting students to such long waits and failing their student populations so badly.

“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.”

Responding to Lamb’s findings and the Guardian article in which they were originally reported, a spokesman for Edinburgh Napier told CommonSpace: “Edinburgh Napier University takes student wellbeing very seriously. The recent Guardian article did not take into account contextual information, such as students requiring appointments on specific days.

READ MORE: 'Losing faith': the mental health crisis facing young Scots

“We also noted in our response that high-risk students are assessed as a matter of urgency and offered the next available appointment within a week, while lower risk students are offered assessment and support within two weeks.

“Like universities across the country, we have seen a huge rise in demand for student counselling. We are therefore continuing to invest in additional counselling resources, drop-in sessions and, through Big White Wall, students and staff have 24/7 online access to professional counsellors.”

Speaking to CommonSpace, NUS Scotland Liam McCabe also commented: “There is a clear mental health crisis across our institutions and these stark findings reinforce NUS Scotland’s evidence published last year.

“What we're seeing across the country is an unacceptable ‘postcode lottery’ for mental health treatment on campus. NUS Scotland want to see parity of services across Scotland so that when students need support for their mental health, they get it immediately.

“What we're seeing across the country is an unacceptable ‘postcode lottery’ for mental health treatment on campus.” NUS Scotland president Liam McCabe

"We continue push the Scottish Government on their promise to deliver 80 new counsellors across our institutions, ensuring the protection and improvement of students' mental health is a central priority for all education institutions across Scotland.”

NUS Scotland has repeatedly called for greater investment in student mental health services, following the release of figures in 2018 which showed a 76 per cent rise in Scottish students trying to access counselling services, with only 60 per cent of that number going on to receive support over the preceding year.

Over the same period, the number of full-time counsellors in universities and colleges only rose from 24 to 30, and the number of part time counsellors from 60 to 103.

The figures further showed that college students are less likely to have access to support than their university counterparts, with only 11 of 24 colleges stating they have dedicated on-campus counselling services, compared to 16 of 18 universities.

“We want all students to have access to good mental health support, and for any lengthy waiting times to be reduced.” Scottish Government spokesperson

In light of the concerns raised by these figures, the 2018-19 Programme for Government committed to committed to providing over 80 new mental health counsellors for further education and higher education. However, NUS Scotland has confirmed to CommonSpace that none of these counsellers have yet taken their positions, although some of them are scheduled to begin this academic year.

A Scottish Government spokesperson told CommonSpace: “Through our Programme for Government we are delivering more than 80 additional counsellors in further and higher education over the next four years, with an investment of around £20 million. A Student mental health and wellbeing working group has been established.

“We want all students to have access to good mental health support, and for any lengthy waiting times to be reduced.

“We recognise the unique challenges faced by students, and that is why we are already investing in student mental health and wellbeing through our support for NUS Scotland’s Think Positive initiative.”

Picture courtesy of Faustin Tuyambaze

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