Personal tutors must receive mental health training

Student satisfaction levels at the University of Edinburgh are shockingly low. Whilst factors such as expensive rent and extortionate living costs must be regarded as partly responsible for this, it is fair to say that the university is doing very little to improve our dismal rankings in this area.

According to a YouGov statistic last year, a quarter of all students in the UK suffer from mental health problems, yet the university has consistently refused to provide the funding needed to address this upsurge. This has resulted in very long waiting times for the counselling service, a cap of four to six counselling sessions per student, and a lack of consistency in pastoral care across schools within the university.

In March 2016, it was announced that all personal tutors would receive mental health training by the 2018 academic year. Currently, students are told that their personal tutor is their first point of contact if they experience any problems, despite the basis of interaction with them consisting of one short meeting each September. These meetings are principally procedural and there is little advice given to students about the support networks on campus or in the wider community at this point.

Therefore, it was understandably welcome news when the university committed to mental health training for its personal tutors, framed as a way to combat, in its own words, the increase in “the number of students in the UK seeking support for mental health issues”.  According to the Students’ Association’s Vice-President of Welfare, Esther Dominy, the university is not expected to meet its target for completing the training, telling The Student: “There are some issues that have meant the mental health training for personal tutors has not been delivered as quickly as we would have liked. Attendance of the training is currently optional, and we know that take-up has been low in some parts of the university. We also understand the training is currently only offered to a few schools at a time”.

Senior university staff must not sit idly by as training continues at this pace. Information comparing the uptake of staff in these sessions from across schools must be presented to the student body in an accessible format. This way, it will become the responsibility of heads of schools to explain why students enrolled in certain courses may be likely to have their welfare concerns taken more seriously than others. Having said this, the overwhelming reason for the slow rate of the training stems back to a general lack of funding for the counselling service, as they are the ones tasked with administering the sessions whilst being seriously understaffed.

Despite the intentions of senior university staff to improve mental health services on campus, they must accept culpability for a lack of funding that reveals that student welfare is currently not a priority.  If the university continues to direct students to their personal tutors as their first port of call when they are struggling, then these personal tutors must be equipped to help them. For student welfare to improve, and for the reputation of this university to climb, a joint effort is required between senior university staff and students to pressure personal tutors to enrol on this training.

Ultimately, the university must commit to a vast increase in funding, enabling the counselling and disability services to offer the support that students struggling with their mental health both need and deserve.

Image: Casey Linenberg

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