The Systemic Problem of Mental Health at Universities

UK universities have a mental health problem, and LSE is no exception. With student satisfaction below 80%, and 43% of students citing a need for improvements to the counselling service, there’s clearly work to do.

But working out exactly what needs to change is tricky. Surveys like the LSESU’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Consultation are too subject to inclusion bias to be of specific use, and narrative evidence can vary broadly depending on who you ask.

Some people – myself included – give glowing personal reviews of services such as the LSE counselling service and the Mental Health Adviser scheme. Others tell horror stories (some real, some exaggerated), of months-long wait times and rude or unhelpful staff. A particularly jarring testimony from one student notes that the reputation of LSE’s wellbeing service is so poor that they did not want to reach out for help.

So, what can LSE do?

The first step should be to identify the specific nature of the problem. A sufficiently wide-reaching survey on wellbeing has not yet been conducted, but would be easily achievable were the school to pursue it. For example, while undergraduate surveys are of increasing use to departments, they are not yet being used to identify mental health and wellbeing issues. These results should be the basis for targeted and fast change at both a departmental and university-wide level.

Secondly, The Disability and Wellbeing Service would benefit from clearer and louder communication. While the LSE website does a good job of explaining what services are available, a more proactive approach to promoting the services on offer would be welcome. Fundamentally, students should know what services are available before they need to use them.

System-wide change will never happen overnight, with 78% of students at UK universities reporting to have struggled with a mental health issue in the past year. But universities have a duty to accept their role in a nationwide phenomenon, and to ensure that those who suffer from mental health issues know where to get help quickly and reliably. Consistency and communication are the way forward.

Note to readers: The print version of this article (Issue 903) contained a sub-heading that incorrectly characterised the position of the author. We apologise for this oversight.


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