The University has failed on mental health

The University’s refusal to consult, or even undergo scrutiny from, the student body is a vast hindrance to its efforts

Image: Maria Kalinowska

The University of York has failed its students when it comes to mental health provision. That’s the short of it at least, but allow me to explain why I think this is the case. I’ve studied here for the last three years, and have put a fair bit of work into mental health activism, but now that I’m about to graduate, I want to be able to tell you what I believe has happened at the University.

First, some disclaimers: the University staff (on the most part) are fantastic. The Sabb team, the college teams, the nurses, doctors, and therapists are all great. What’s not so great is the University’s diminishing attitude towards a problem that is only growing in severity. The £500 000 allocated to mental health at the start of this year is nice, really nice in fact.

And yet, in a somewhat bizarre attempt at PR, the University are refusing to publish the allocations of the spending, despite it being a three-year plan that will affect the well being of students for years to come. It’s unlikely that we’ll get an investment like this for possibly decades, and yet neither the student body nor the student union has any idea where it’s going – the University is drip feeding us tid-bits of information, but nothing of any substance.

That’s £500 000 that the University will spend with little to no scrutiny, because it will be too late to protest the implementations once they’ve released the information.
Which brings me on to my next point: the level of student consultation that went into the allocation of the £500 000? Little to none.

After the completion of the Graham Report in March 2016, the University shortly announced its commitment to the spending. In a mere few months, the University has somehow been able to cost and allocate half a million pounds worth of spending, apparently in the best interest of students, perhaps without stopping to think about the actual users of the service itself. This is a trend that has continued into recent months, as the University continues to prove its incompetency when it comes to mental health.

Changes to the tutor system demonstrate a severe under appreciation of the work that college tutors do. With Open Door and Unity Health both under immense pressure, the last thing that should be on the University’s mind would be cutting the front line services which are in place to deal with minor mental health issues, forcing clinicians to deal with these problems, when they could be addressing students with severe issues.

This raises the question: why bother spending the £500 000 in the first place? The University’s record for mental health is far from stellar, with 50 per cent of ambulance call outs being for self harm related incidents in 2015.

Like I said – the money is great, and is more than needed. But with poorly though out policies, which I could write about for days, I genuinely fear that the difference it will make will be negated by poor decision making, and without student scrutiny, there’s little hope that this will change. Dom Smithies, YUSU Community and Wellbeing Officer wrote a blog post not so long ago on the progress made after the Graham Report. It detailed the improvements made by the University a year on from the report, and it’s a little frightening.

With only seven action points (which include things such as “attendance at meetings” and “further development”) there seems to be little substance to the progress made. It’s time now for awareness and activism groups to turn their focus to lobbying the University to make a difference. Students have the collective power to influence these decisions, and we must exercise that power.

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