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Why Is Mental Health So Low on University Agendas?

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Depression is something that I've struggled with for the majority of my life, but I only really became aware of it a few years ago. Before then, I just put my feelings and behaviour down to being 'different' and not fitting in with my peers. Throughout sixth form I really struggled, and it was only when my dad asked me outright if I was depressed that everything seemed to make sense. Since then, I've done quite a bit of research into depression and anxiety and have learnt a lot more about how I feel and how to cope with my emotions.

Recently, I decided to seek help from Exeter University's wellbeing services after a particularly hard few months of trying to keep my head above the water and finally breaking down in my GP's office and admitting to self harm. It took two weeks for my first appointment with the mental health services, and during the wait I was put on anti-depressants to hopefully put a stop to the self-harm, and was generally feeling positive and optimistic about receiving counselling in the near future.

Since my first assessment I have been waiting for more than six weeks for my counselling to actually begin. What's quite shocking to me is that the wellbeing services know I have been self-harming and have expressed an interest in suicide yet I've had no contact with the wellbeing centre for nearly two months.

Wellbeing services at university seem to be very low on the agenda, with Cambridge University's waiting time for an appointment currently three - five weeks (around half a term) and Exeter University's annual fund spending more on freshers week activities than wellbeing services for the whole year.

University is the first time when most people move out and live away from home, and the change can be quite difficult for some people. Factoring in learning to cope with independent work and study and the very high probabilities of experiencing loneliness and homesickness, students are highly likely to suffer from an array of mental health issues.

Looking at the wait times at many big universities, all of which seem to average at around five weeks, it's clear the services are over-subscribed. As a university student who's really struggling to cope, and desperately needs a counselling service to manage and hopefully reduce my anxiety and depression, knowing that the wait for help is nearly half a term long is very discouraging.

If anything were to go wrong in my life, then I am very aware of the fact that I would be highly likely to begin self harming again. I try to talk to my friends about it, but it's not really fair to burden them with my problems, especially ones that need professional help. So a good wellbeing service is crucial to my university life, and unfortunately the current services are just too limited.

I hope that over time universities will start to take the mental health of their students more seriously and provide more funding to these services, hopefully reducing the wait times, which should in turn make students more likely to use them (I know of some students who don't use the mental health services as the wait time is just too long for them). If the funding and attention to wellbeing stays at the current rate, I think it's highly likely for mental health issues to become more and more prevalent on campus.

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