A Freedom of Information request by The Beaver has revealed possible underfunding at the LSE Student Counselling Service. From the academic years 2010/11 to 2016/17, the number of students seeking individual counselling sessions each year rose from 462 to 801. Last year, it stood at about one in every 15 students. From 2012/13 to 2016/17, demand for such sessions rose by about 17 percent while the Service’s budget for counsellors in the same period only rose by about £35,000, or 10.3 percent.
Adjusting for inflation, the percentage gap becomes significantly wider. Using a Bank of England conversion from 2012 to 2016, the budgetary rise between the 2012/13 to 2016/17 periods was only about £6,500 above inflation, a negligible real percentage increase.
A spokesperson said that the number of counsellors has also remained “stable” in the past five years, at around 6.4 full-time employees on average, including part-time counsellors and mental health advisers (MHAs). However, they added that the Service also employs Peer Support advisers and locum cover on top of that and that, in the same period, Peer Support and “the provision of MHA input” have increased.
Adam Sandelson, head of Student Wellbeing, told The Beaver: “The increased demand is challenging but the Counselling Service has worked consistently to ensure waiting times are kept to a minimum and that a range of options are offered to students. For example, the introduction of the daily drop-in service has been a great success.
Causes of change
There are a number of possible causes for the rise in student demand for individual counselling. Sandelson said that one factor could be “greater awareness and, hopefully, less stigma attached to seeking help.” Others have suggested that government cuts to public services are causing increased demand for non-public facilities.
From 2012/13 to 2016/17, demand for individual counselling at the university grew only slightly faster than the student population. The rise in demand was steepest between 2010/11 and 2012/13, when the number of students requesting individual counselling sessions rose by 48 percent. But in the five years between 2012/13 and 2016/17, it rose by an average of just 3.4 percent annually, roughly the same as the growth of the LSE student body, which averaged 2.4 percent annually in the same period.
Dr Marc Bush, Chief Policy Adviser at mental health charity Young Minds told The Beaver: “With NHS services often badly overstretched, it’s important that universities are able to provide fast support to all students who need it. But we also need a Government strategy to en- sure that we’re meeting the mental health needs of all 18-25 year olds, including students and those in training or apprenticeships.”
In January, it emerged that in other UK universities, some students have had to wait several months between rst seeking help for a mental health concern and seeing somebody. The case at LSE is not so alarming, but there are nonetheless some concerns among students.
A spokesperson for the Counselling Service told The Beaver that: “The waiting time depends on the time of year. At the start of the academic year there is no waiting time, [but] as the term progresses this can change. We currently have a waiting time of just over 7.3 days.”
Student opinion on the matter was divided, with those who sought help for longer being the least satis ed. One respondent, who wished to remain anonymous, found that their waiting times varied between two and four weeks during a six session period from October to January. “[The wait] was de nitely too long,” they said. “A lot of things can happen during a four week break. This shows that those with serious struggles should not rely only on the LSE counselling service.”
However, another student, also anonymous, said that their wait was shorter. “I needed help with something that was quite urgent. I was told to come back during their drop in hour and was seen right away when I returned.”
Student feelings were similarly divided on post appointment care. Sam, a student who used the Counselling Service early in the academic year, said: “I had one appointment and was never contacted again. They told me they would get back in contact with me to arrange the next one and never did. And I know someone else that that happened to.”
But another student said: “It was my experience that the staff at the wellbeing centre genuinely cared about me and my ‘situation’ . . . They stayed in touch with me to make sure I was doing OK, which I really appreciated.” They added: “It helped me a lot.”
Another described the Service as “convenient” and helpful “to a certain degree. It was good to talk to somebody and the analysis mostly reflected what I thought myself. However, I think that they are not necessarily good in dealing with specific issues . . . I think the service is a good and comparatively uncomplicated way to try out counselling. Nevertheless, I do not think that they are a long-term substitute for specialized professionals when it comes to anxiety disorders or something similar.”
There are already some measures in place to mitigate the rise in demand. For example, Sandelson explained that the Counselling Service preempts extra demand during “particularly sensitive times in the academic cycle, such as arrival or examination time.”
There are also plans for the future. Over the past two years, the SU has been working with the university to produce an ‘Action Plan’, a forthcoming document aimed at improving mental health at LSE. “We have worked extremely hard this year on building relationships with the School. I am happy to say, they are listening, and so are we,” said Daniel Cayford, the Student Union’s Community and Welfare Of cer.
In early 2016, the SU released a Welfare Survey that canvassed over 1,000 students. Cayford told The Beaver that, of the students who did not use the Counselling Service, “it was disappointing that 29 percent stated that they would not approach the Student Counselling Service due to feeling uncomfortable or negative about it, or that they felt their issues were not serious enough. In particular, students commented that they felt the Service was under-resourced, always busy and therefore not accessible. This perception of the Student Counselling Service seems to be translating into a real barrier for students and suggests that greater investment in resource is required.”
The Beaver’s data request revealed that anxiety and depression are the two major reasons for people us- ing the Service, together comprising 45.8 percent of demand. Academic work and other pressures are thought to be an underlying reason. As Sandelson explained, students can feel “pressure from themselves, their families [and] communities . . . London is an exciting city but it is also a challenging one.”
Compared to LSE demographics as a whole, there were a number of discrepancies in the data. Last year, postgraduate students were found to use the Counselling Service disproportionately, comprising about half (50.3 percent) of the student body yet two thirds (66.4 percent) of those seeking individual counselling sessions. Postgraduates also tend to have higher workloads.
Similarly, male students were found to disproportionately under-use the Service. They comprise about half the student body yet only an estimated 30 percent of those seeking individual counselling sessions. As Sandelson explains, “The greater usage by female students almost replicates the situation for the general population . . . There are many reasons for this, including social and cultural ones.”
Finally, last year, international students were found to disproportionately under-use the Service. Such students comprise about two-thirds (69.6 percent) of the student body yet little over half (56.1 percent) of those seeking individual counselling sessions. When asked whether there are special measures put in place to encourage non-UK students to use the Service, a Counselling Service spokesperson said: “[We] provide specific workshops for International Students aimed at helping those students make the transition to LSE and London.”