What’s On Our Students’ Minds?

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by Samiha Begum, Student Trustee

LSE is under more pressure than ever to develop effective measures to tackle mental health issues on campus. Last month, the National Union of Students (NUS) revealed that 8 out of 10 students (78%) say they had experience of mental health issues in the last year. Of the 1093 students surveyed in further and higher education between November and December, 54% said they did not seek support at their institution.

Maddy Kirkman, the NUS disabled students officer described the findings as ‘deeply concerning’ and that ‘it reaffirmed the stark challenges that persist around providing effective support to students in universities and colleges.’ While national statistics are meaningful, each campus must look internally at what kind of environment exists for students who have experienced mental health issues. LSE produces the leading research on mental health policy to the NHS, but how does the university fare when it comes to the treatment of their own students?

47% of the NUS respondents declared financial difficulties to contribute to their mental health issues. It’s common knowledge that being an LSE student is costly, it was declared the most expensive university in the UK last year and students in their final year can’t graduate until they have repaid their debt to the school, without any right to appeal.

Alternatively, if we disaggregate the NUS figures between different marginalised groups we can see stark differences. For example, 33% of the respondents overall said they had suicidal thoughts while for those who didn’t identify as heterosexual, the figure rose to 55%. Meanwhile, the 2015 Counter-Terrorism & Security Act put a statutory requirement on professors, advisers and health workers to report any behavioural change in Muslim students, creating a relationship of distrust between Muslim students and support services, thus making it difficult for these students to openly seek help.

As mentioned earlier, 54% of those who reported they have mental health issues said they did not seek support at their institution, this figure has more than doubled since 2011 when 26% stated they did not seek treatment. There are many reasons as to why we are not seeking help. The social stigma of mental illness certainly still persists, there’s also worry acknowledgment of one’s own mental health issues may deter career progression or access to opportunity. On the other hand, scepticism, self-doubt and playing down one’s condition can be hurdles one may face when it comes to seeking help. Here at LSE we currently have the LSE Disability and Wellbeing Service, Student Counselling and LSE Peer Support, but given a third of the NUS respondents stated they wouldn’t know where to get support, LSE needs a thorough review of the utilisation of its existing facilities.

LSE needs to confront this issue head on. Currently, counselling sessions have a three week waiting time before the first session, facilities have always been available at LSE but how accessible are they? We also need to develop a more multi-layered approach to tackling mental health issues and stop looking at it in isolation but at the intersection of other issues such as financial hardship, marginalisation and harassment. We require an understanding and acceptance of the fact every individual’s experience and needs will be different; so we must harvest a community that not only encourages academic excellence, pursuit and debate but a strong sense of personal development and understanding of one’s own mind.