Comment: Lobbying the Student Counselling Service is the wrong priority, perhaps harmful

I don’t think that it should be news to anyone that LSE has a serious problem with mental health. As the recent UGM notes, the culture at LSE is liable to contribute to the deterioration of students’ mental health.

This should not be surprising. There is medical theory and evidence to suggest that cities attract a disproportionate number of people predisposed to mental health problems, and that the various culture shocks that many LSE students experience on arrival are not conducive to good overall wellbeing.

I understand this more than most. Ten years ago I was in the grip of my first LSE depression. After that, my bipolar disorder spiralled out of control to the extent that my undergraduate graduation was delayed by three years. It was only due to the fantastic pastoral support that I received from both my Academic Advisor and Departmental Tutor that I find myself in the unusual position of writing for the Beaver as an alumnus rather than a dropout.

It is fantastic news that the student community is engaged in mental health issues and that such issues are salient enough that motions concerning them can pass at UGM.

However, I believe the recent motion may be emblematic of a deeper problem at LSE. 

When I was Disabled Students Officer in 2014/15, I was often lobbied to do something about the Student Counselling Service. Just as I did then, I believe that is the wrong priority – and may even be harmful to pursue.

My experience was that students thought that the counselling service should be the primary option to address mental health issues. This is pure folly. As with any health issue, the first point of contact for a mental health issue should be the GP. There is a fantastic GP service available at St Phillips (so good that, even after I graduated, I still ensure I live within the catchment area).

The issue previously was that students tend to think that counselling can have an immediate impact on mental health. The truth is that if someone’s mental health has reached the point that they need an intervention within a fortnight, then they are extremely unlikely to be in a state of mind where they can derive value from counselling or other taking therapies. In fact, counselling when in such a state may even be harmful.

I am not opposed to counselling as a treatment. I have used the Student Counselling Service several times. On some occasions it was helpful. Sometimes, I was too unwell to engage properly. This is neither a criticism nor an endorsement of the service. But it does underline the fact that mental health issues must be addressed as part of a much wider approach and that there are no simple answers to this problem that is endemic at LSE.

Obviously, (as any economist will understand) more availability for counselling services and better quality of counselling services can only be a positive. However, if the student body continues to focus on the Student Counselling Service as the primary response to mental health issues in the student community, then I fear that vulnerable students may not fully understand what services are available and get the support they need.

Mental health issues are health problems. The appropriate people to deal with health issues are the health services. And we already have fantastic health services on campus.


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