Exeposé News Issue 634, Page 3 (5 February 2015) and Exeposé News online (8 February 2015)
– 27% increase in demand last term
– Students still face six week waits for treatment
– CBT waiting lists exceed six week ‘cap’
A year after Exeposé reported excessively long waits at the University’s Wellbeing Centre, concerns remain that mental health support is worryingly inadequate, both at the University – where demand has risen by 27 per cent in one term – and in Exeter itself.
In January 2014, Exeposé revealed the Wellbeing Centre had received emergency funding following dramatic increases in demand. Two new staff members were employed and services were reconfigured to try and meet students’ needs.
However, demand has continued to rise – and last term the centre was forced to close its referral list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, after waiting times exceeded the ‘cap’ of four to six weeks. While the list is now reopened, students can still expect waits of up to four weeks for an initial appointment.
Since last year, the Wellbeing Centre has increased use of Single Session Interventions (SSIs) as an “alternative to a longer wait for a series of appoint-ments.” For urgent support, on-the-day ‘drop in’ sessions have been introduced, alongside a telephone ‘triage’ providing “immediate advice.”
Students have praised the support currently offered. Describing the services as “vastly superior compared to my previous university,” one student said: “I have really felt that most of the staff and my lecturers are on my side.”
Another student described his four weeks of CBT as “well laid-out,” saying that he “discussed things properly and it wasn’t a waste of time,” while a student who waited around two weeks for a one-off session last term said the service was “really helpful, prompt and easy to get hold of.”
However, as waiting times for ongoing treatment remain high, concerns have been raised that not enough has been done in the past year.
One student told Exeposé: “I went to book an appointment in the October just gone as I had relapsed with anorexia, and was given a phone appointment only to be told that they were all booked up for the foreseeable future. By Christmas I still hadn’t heard anything and my situation had deteriorated significantly.”
Others have reported waiting times of four to six weeks for treatment, while one student said: “This year I haven’t even been referred, as she said it will take ‘so long’ she has instead put me through the NHS.”
“We have experienced a significant increase in demand from students who have chronic and complex needs,” said Mark Sawyer, Head of Wellbeing. He continued: “the increased demand has resulted in waiting times of up to six weeks.”
A University spokesperson said: “the University is doing all it can to facilitate swifter access to the service.
“New students are made aware of all the support services available,” they stated, adding: “These include local GP surgeries, Residence Life teams, the Chaplaincy, the Guild and Voice as well as the Wellbeing Centre.
“Other HEIs are reporting a similar pattern of increased demand, and in wider society there is an upwards trend of young people seeking support from mental health services.”
The University was unable to comment on whether funding would be increased again to cope with demand, stating: “we are currently in the planning process for 2015/16.”
Kate Hawkins, VP Welfare and Diversity, said: “I am keen to hear students’ experiences of the service which will inform my ongoing work with the University to ensure wellbeing services continue to improve.”
Ben Bradshaw, Exeter’s Labour MP, told Exeposé: “it’s very important students have good access to mental health services” adding: “the transition to University can be a difficult or challenging time for some”
“I applaud the University for having a Wellbeing Centre,” commented Councillor Kevin Mitchell. “The University are ahead of society in general by recognising the need for improving access to mental health services.”
However, he noted: “the University has expanded its student numbers dramatically over the past few years and the welfare services it provides need to be fit for purpose.”