Inside the student mental health crisis

As the debate rages on about universities’ duty of care to students, CR speaks to education body GuildHE about the scale of the challenge facing art colleges across the country – and why it’s going to take much more than mindfulness sessions and puppy rooms

There has been much discussion about the worrying surge in reported cases of mental health problems among students in recent years. The statistics speak for themselves: reports of ill mental health have increased fivefold on campuses across the UK since 2010, according to the Office for Students. At the same time, universities are battling to keep up with the increased demand for care, with recent figures showing that students experiencing mental health problems are being forced to wait up to three months to receive help.

Art colleges and universities are by no means exempt from the challenges facing other academic institutions in the UK. In the report about mental health service waiting lists, the Royal College of Art came out as one of the worst offenders, with students having to wait as long as 56 days to receive help. While stats like these suggest that we’re in the midst of a mental health epidemic, the reality is slightly more complicated, according to Kate Wicklow, policy manager at GuildHE, a university body which represents specialist arts institutions including Ravensbourne, Plymouth College of Art and Falmouth University.

“A lot of our institutions have seen two, three, fourfold increases in the number of students asking for help. But if you look at the charity Mind, within its statistics it doesn’t think it has actually seen a dramatic increase in cases overall, it is just that young people are more comfortable in disclosing that they need support,” she says.

Universities aren’t in a position where they can employ clinical psychologists, and neither should they be. It’s about creating a holistic view of what good mental health looks like

Having worked at GuildHE for the past four years, and at the National Union of Students (NUS) for six years prior to that, Wicklow has seen the development of the national conversation about student mental health first hand. So are our academic institutions responding appropriately to the issues being raised in the discussion?