We don’t understand.

According to the UK Mental Health Foundation, one in four people will experience problems with their mental health in any given year. One in four. That means that around 2,000 students at this university are currently, or have been in the past year, suffering from mental health problems.

The way in which an anonymous St Andrews student, referred to in our news article as Mr Smith, was mistreated by our University is nothing short of a disgrace. Perhaps it is a cruel reality that instances so absurd as this one are necessary in order for the University authorities, prompted by outcry from the student body, to enact change. The fact that the University has no standardised policy on how departments should deal with students with mental health issues is shameful. It is about time that they change it.

Change must also be brought to Student Services, which may pride itself on a “bespoke” service but, as we show today by telling the stories of Messrs Smith, Jones and Simpson, is failing to meet the needs of these students who need it most. Few other services at the University need to be as unfailing as this one. We must not allow students to slip through the net.

Both candidates for the sabbatical position of director of representation (DoRep), Ali West and Ondrej Hajda, have made addressing the Students’ Association and the University’s approach to mental health a top manifesto priority.

And rightly so. If ever there was a compelling case for student government and representation, this is surely it. Teddy Woodhouse’s efforts in the job this year have been an excellent start when it comes to raising awareness of mental health; they cannot be in vain.

But it’s easy to point fingers. How easy it is to sit on high and criticise the University for being so out of touch with society. However, we all know that the University is not alone in misunderstanding and unintentionally mistreating those who suffer from mental health problems.The very fact that the students who suffered in this way wish to remain anonymous, and the fact that this is so understandable, indicates a much wider societal stigma that is associated with mental health.

For many the problem is as simple as out of sight, out of mind; but for those who have ever suffered themselves, or ever known somebody who has suffered, from serious depression, crippling anxiety, or any other mental health problems, they know that nothing could be further from the truth.

We have a proud tradition of mutual helpfulness in St Andrews. Nightline, for example, is a charity that trains students in universities across the UK to provide an emotionally supportive listening service throughout the night. If you’ve ever needed them, you’ll know what a fantastic group of people they are. In St Andrews, they are oversubscribed for volunteers almost every year.

But we all must do more. We call for those who have been through or supported somebody through mental health issues not to remain silent, but to speak up about them. Share your experiences. And for those who don’t know, those who don’t understand, try to listen and learn. The stigma feeds off our silence. Nightline is a fantastic service, but the discretion of the volunteers potentially has the unforeseen effect of keeping the problem quiet. The only way to puncture the stigma is to speak out.

We don’t understand; we feel helpless. We try to dismiss the problem, saying either out loud or to ourselves: “I feel depressed sometimes too.”

But we can do something about it. You can do something about it, today. Cast your vote and ensure that next year’s director of representation makes mental health a top priority. Keep talking about this.

Call us idealistic, call us cliché, but if we work together then we will go some way towards addressing how we treat those who suffer from mental health problems.

The University has responded to this article here.

3 COMMENTS

  1. This editorial seems wholly to misapprehend the challenges of dealing with mental health issues. As a very basic first point, there is simply no way that any kind of “standardised” policy on mental health can meet the needs of a student body of 7000+. Mental health is an incredibly challenging area, and most universities don’t even want to go near it – St Andrews actually leads the way amongst UK institutions in providing the service it does.

    The editors of this newspaper need to realise that mistakes of the kind alleged in the article which accompanies this piece are inevitable in a system under heavy demand. Part of the reason the system is under such demand at all is because of the efforts of Student Services staff in reaching out to the student body, and their success in helping large numbers of students who would be ignored in other institutions. Student Services is not “failing” – it actually has one of the highest satisfaction ratings of any department within the university.

    This editorial is a grossly disingenuous piece of writing which ignores the enormous dedication of the majority of Student Services staff who care deeply for their students and make significant personal sacrifices to help them. I cannot understand the motivations of the editorial team here – is there any evidence at all that the experiences of those mentioned in the accompanying article are widespread? I hope that these individuals are on their way to recovery, whether that happens with the help of Student Services or not. I also hope that anyone in the university who needs help with an issue of mental health is not put off seeking support by what they find written in The Saint, which fails comprehensively to give an accurate picture of the service.

    • How is it disingenuous when, after I endured similar, worse and even sinister practices under the systems of the university, I wished I’d read a piece like it before I spent several wasted years there?

  2. First off, to the students mentioned in this article, I hope you are now receiving the support you require either from the university or elsewhere. I am confident that all the readers feel the same.

    To the Saint and the staff responsible for this article, shame on you. This has to be one of the most one-sided and bias articles I have ever read in your paper. Not once to you comment on the great work Student Services does for its student with respect to promotion, advocacy and support towards mental health at St Andrews. I only hope that at some point, if not all ready, you require their help and see how great they are. They have supported me and friends of mine on many occasions and I will continue to promote them to others in need. What you have done with this article is potentially scare students away from the service and therefore jeopardizes their well being. Good job.

    Anyone who has suffered from poor mental health will know it is not something that can be fixed in a single visit or by flicking a switch; it is a battle that for some lasts a lifetime. They will also tell you that not every approach to help an individual will work, and on occasion this can appear as a failure, but it is not. It is also something that the individual has to do most of the work. Mental health professionals will guide you through the obstacles and teach you how to improve your mental health, but ultimately the responsibility is on the individual to want to get better, and it is almost always a tough fight.

    I think it’s safe to say Student Services has one of the hardest jobs at this university, and we should be applauding them rather than slandering them. I know we will never hear the full story, but I hope others at this institution speak up in support of this service.

    If you have received poor services from them, tell them. They need to know. Not by this form of media but face to face, on the phone or e-mail. It may be hard to do, but it is your responsibility.

    If anything, what this article has done is raise an issue that so many are scared to talk about. If this poorly written article is the catalyst for improved support for students with poor mental health, than let’s do it. I challenge the Saint to run a regular piece in your paper promoting mental health to our students and staff, and avoid this unproductive and slandering “shock media”

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