Jessica Murray: Student mental health is at crisis point

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Another week, another headline about the shocking state of student mental health in the UK.

This time round, The Times has found that the number of students claiming special circumstances in exams due to mental health difficulties has soared.

At Cambridge the number has trebled in the past five years, and at Imperial College it has jumped from 11 to 111 in the same period. It’s likely this trend is being repeated at universities up and down the country.

For most students I’m sure this comes as no surprise. Over the past year, The Gryphon has reported on a spate of student suicides at campuses across the UK, a sad consequence of the lack of resources being devoted to student mental health.

The burden of tuition fee debt, the stress of studying, an increasingly competitive job market and financial instability are just a few of the factors which students are struggling with.

I myself know countless students who have suffered from mental health difficulties while at university, and the struggle they have gone through to access to the right support. At Leeds we’re lucky that our student union and many student-led initiatives are taking steps towards helping students deal with this.

We have a Nightline service dedicated to lending students an ear throughout the night. Over the past year we’ve had a ‘Don’t Bottle It Up’ mental health campaign, and a ‘Mind Yourself’ Health and Wellbeing festival. These events are great and show how Leeds students are taking a positive and proactive approach to tackling mental health issues. But they do also expose the glaring gaps in the current official provision. Student counselling services are massively oversubscribed, and personal tutors lack the necessary training to deal with mental health issues appropriately. Back in January, Theresa May made a speech affirming the government’s commitment to tackling mental health difficulties in young people, but students in higher education were largely sidelined from the debate.

Student concerns are often used in political discourse as a bargaining chip to secure more votes, but what many seem to forget is that thousands of students are suffering, and some sadly dying, with nowhere to turn for help. The statistics speak volumes, and the government need to turn their words into action now more than ever.

Jessica Murray is the Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University.