The apparent need for counselling at Lancaster rises by 127%

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It has been revealed that the number of Lancaster University students seeking counselling has risen by 127% in the last four years. An article for The Guardian newspaper revealed that Lancaster has seen the second largest rise of students seeking counselling during this period, coming second only to the University of Glasgow.

The figures indicate that 365 more students were seeking counselling in 2011/12 than were in 2009/10 (Lancaster is anomalous in The Guardian’s survey in that there is no recorded figure for the 2008/09 academic year). The survey shows that 286 students were seeking counselling in 2009/10; 525 in 2010/11 and 651 in 2011/12.

Several members of staff have suggested that the rise in the number of students seeking the University’s counselling service is linked to the closure and dismantling of several of the student support networks, which took place during the summer of 2010 and into the 2010/11 academic year. The closures took place under the Vice-Chancellorship of Professor Paul Wellings. This included the dismantling of the Student Learning Development Centre and the closure of the Nurse’s Unit.

The Student Learning Development Centre offered academic support to students, such as those with learning difficulties. The decision to dismantle the Centre took place at the end of the 2009/10 academic year. The Nurse’s Unit provided a confidential service to students with regards their wellbeing, and closed in the autumn of 2010. On November 30 2010, SCAN reported that 200 Lancaster University students protested against the changes.

The University, however, was keen to point out that Lancaster’s counselling services have improved over the three years since the 2010 dismantling, pointing to the University’s decision to increase the number of appointments available to students. The University also said that it had made the service more accessible, pointing to “new and better premises, new technology and the introduction of a self-referral form which can be completed and submitted at any time of day or night.”

Tom Finnigan, the Head of the University’s Student Based Services, who presided over the closure of the Nurse’s Unit and the subsequent changes to the counselling services, was unavailable for comment.

While the increase in the number of students seeking counselling is markedly greater than most other universities, figures collected by The Guardian indicate that the overall number of students seeking counselling is a lot greater in other institutions, with Glasgow, York, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and Bristol – amongst others – having a noticeably higher overall number of students seeking counselling than Lancaster.

In a statement released to SCAN, the University said: “we are very pleased that students and staff who need to access our services are doing so. While the demand has increased the numbers are still low compared to many other institutions, such as York, Durham and Warwick. We think this is because of our network of support – which at Lancaster includes college advisors, academic tutors, student based services and the Students’ Union – helps students at a much earlier stage.”

The University also said that external factors such as long waiting lists for NHS services can also increase demand for University services.

The national figures show that 2 in every 100 UK students sought counselling services in 2012. An NUS report on mental illness this month revealed that 20% of UK students currently in university consider themselves to have a mental health problem. The research also said that 20% of students considered themselves to have a mental health problem, and 13% had suicidal thoughts.

When approached about the issue, Tom Fox, VP for Welfare, told SCAN that “One of the biggest problems we face as a University (and as a country) is our attitudes to Mental Health and the provisions we have for those suffering from these kind of issues.” He continued to say that currently “it all comes down to funds” and that there needs to be “a serious discussion with the relevant individuals in the University about how we can improve the budget of the wellbeing service”.

There have been added fears that the removal of phones from university halls of residences may have an impact on the way in which students can contact free listening service, Nightline. When asked about this potential problem, Fox replied “We are working with Nightline on how they can establish new ways to help individuals who need someone to listen to them.”

The research and improvement into the e-listening instant messaging Nightline service has proved to be encouraging and could provide a more ideal environment for individuals who may feel that they cannot vocalise their issues.

When asked about the caller charges that are now experienced when contacting Nightline, Fox responded that the University was “looking into ways that the service could become a free-phone one, but at the moment these are all ideas that need to be fleshed out and looked into.”

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