"This week the Guardian reported that the number of students who left university early with a mental health problem has tripled.
The data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows a huge increase from 380 in 2009-10 to 1,180 in 2014-15.
What does this mean? Are university services failing students with mental health problems or are more students with mental health problems known to the services?
Are more young people developing mental health problems now than before or does diminished stigma mean more are accessing support?
The university services that I have worked for as a volunteer counsellor did their utmost to support the academic needs of their students, running workshops and open days and joining up support with academic tutors. They couldn’t have done any more with the resources they had.
Perhaps more mental health issues are diagnosed now in young people even before they join university.
As a trainee counsellor the cases deemed low enough risk for me to take on became harder to find as an increasing amount of high-risk cases presented to the service as years went by.
Less stigma and more awareness
There is definitely less and less stigma associated with accessing mental health support.
The Guardian added that the number of requests for counselling have risen from 68,614 in 2013-14 to 87,914 students requested counselling in 2015-16.
Working at one university service as a volunteer counsellor I saw students popping in to register for the service without needing help right there and then. They wanted to make themselves known in case they needed support in the future, and rightly so.
Using the university counselling service wasn’t something to be done under duress or something to be ashamed of – it was a service to be made use of like any other.
Charity social media campaigns have also gone a long way to educate young people about what a mental health problem is and how to talk about them.
Pressure to succeed
Adding to this is the culture of the times.
Pressure to succeed is high. I saw many young people torn apart by the prospect of returning home to live with their parents after working hard to create a life of their own due to high competition over jobs.
University counselling services cannot be held responsible for the mental health of the young. It is convenient to look to the university as a repository for society’s collective guilt but it is not helpful.
There is so much more at work like the pressure of the digital world, with Instgram and SnapChat being recently named as the most detrimental apps to the wellbeing of young people.
What is clear is that university counselling services are essential.
So let's stop blaming and support university counselling services to do their job. More rooms are needed for counselling to take place, more funding is needed to pay for more counsellors. More supervision is needed for trainee counsellors and let's start paying them to train.
Hopefully this data will highlight the need to invest in university counselling services and give them the support they need to succeed inside the university institution."