Fears on mental health survey
May 13 2004
Jenny Rees, The Western Mail (Wales, UK)

RESULTS from the annual survey of student mental and emotional health will cause concern among parents, according to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

The 2002-03 figures show:

A small percentage of student clients present with symptoms of severe distress; the evidence suggests this proportion is growing every year.

A typical waiting time of longer than 10 days in 2002/03 for students seeking counselling was found to be highest within "new" universities at 9%, 7% in further education colleges and 3% in "old" universities. A small proportion of institutions is failing to match demand for counselling.

There is a two-tier level of service provision between university and FE colleges. Average counselling service budgets in "old" and "new" universities are five times higher than those in FE. This means provision is lowest where most needed

The vast majority of students who attended for counselling received eight sessions or fewer in 2002/03. Evidence suggests that during the past six years more services have had to limit the number of sessions per client in order to meet demand for counselling. Consequently, vulnerable students with recurring, more chronic problems may receive an inadequate level of psychological and emotional support. Concern about provision nationally of mental health services to support students is raised by recent reports.

The average counselling budget per student has fallen in real-terms (when retail price inflation is factored in) in the past 10 years in "new" and "old" universities.

Academic and faculty staff use of counselling services has generally increased across all institutions. In the last three years it has risen substantially in "old" universities from 18% to 42%. This reflects the diversification of the role of counsellors. It reflects also the increased pressures on academic staff in FE and HE.

A spokesperson for BACP said, "If we regard the AUCC Survey as a stress gauge for further and higher education then there is strong evidence that the Government and the academic authorities need to take note of these findings, particularly in the light of new legal precedents."

AUCC chair John Cowley said, "The numbers of students utilising counselling continues to rise, and that is reflected in longer waiting lists. The numbers of severely distressed students, although small, continues to rise. Counselling services are also expected to stretch to looking after staff as well as students. Whilst this is welcomed, as it demonstrates counselling has reached maturity and acceptance, it comes at a cost."