Letter to the editor: in support of Student Services

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In response to ‘Student mistakenly expelled due to University mental health policy‘ by Laura Abernethy (6 March 2014)

Sir,

I write to express concern at the article and editorial of 6 March on the subject of mental health and Student Services.

As a part-time member of academic staff, and having worked in several minor roles in the wardennial system and in disability support, I was hugely dismayed to read what can only be construed as an egregious attack upon the personnel of Student Services, apparently contrived on the sole basis of a small number of anonymous interviews. I am well aware of the quality of the vast majority of work carried out by Student Services, whilst from an academic perspective I appreciate the enormous (and often deeply personal) commitment of its staff towards the well-being of our students.

It is difficult to measure the success of the work done by Student Services in this area. Partly this is because, ideally, the results of recovery are invisible to the world outside. Given the extremely challenging nature of mental health issues from both a personal and an institutional perspective, mistakes of the kind described in the aforementioned article are inevitable. Whilst such cases are a serious problem, the isolated incidents of failure discussed by The Saint in no way justify the attack levelled by the editorial of 6 March.

If the editorial team of The Saint truly wishes to embrace a commitment to mental health issues in St Andrews – one which matches the tone of its criticisms of Student Services – its members would do well to begin with some basic research into the role of this department. This would certainly assist in clearing up the numerous false assumptions, too numerous to list here, on which these two pieces were based. Perhaps it would also make clear to the editors of this newspaper why engaging publicly in ill-informed criticism of this nature can only cause harm to those genuinely in need of help.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Jamie Page
School of History

6 COMMENTS

  1. Having suffered from severe depression during my 3rd & 4th years as an undergraduate, I have nothing but praise for Student Support. I received a huge amount of care and the utmost was done to help me personally and academically. I was terrified it would affect my studies and each and every member of staff (in Student Support and in the School of Divinity) made it very clear that they were more concerned with my health than my grades but would do their best to help with both.
    I do however realise that people can all too easily slip through the gaps concerning mental health and it’s often easy to attempt to blame those trying to help. It is not helpful to add fear to a situation and I agree that the original article seemed to be trying to generalise all care from the example of the minority.
    The staff try extremely hard and honestly care. They may not get it right every time, but they are human. I am personally thankful for everyone of them.

  2. I must say I agree, I have suffered from depression, through to eating disorders and personality disorders during my time as an undergraduate and Student Support have always been helpful, arranged extra support and done their best with me. I know this may not be the case of everyone, and it is always worth raising concerns to improve the system further. However, the article in the Saint I feel has done damage to the system in place, in the sense that it will put off people from seeking help, when they might desperately need it. Student Support is a great port of call, to seek help and start the ball rolling. They will make doctors appointments for you if you are too afraid and can offer people to support you through the care process. This can be incredibly comforting during times of need and it shouldn’t be dismissed just because a few fall through the net. I am sorry to anyone who hasn’t had the best experience, but if you go back to Student Support and raise this with them, I can assure you they will try to correct it. They are human, and make mistakes, but they are also professionals, with a lot of experience, and I have found they do truly care.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. While of course it is possible that a few individual cases will slip through the cracks with the current system, ill-informed suggestions of standardised policy (an unworkable and completely counter-productive idea) and accusations of poor service based, it would appear on a few very one-sided interviews, merely serves to create an attitude of distrust between students and University administration. University of St Andrews Student Services are overwhelmingly excellent and deserve praise.

  4. I do recognize that Student Services does all they can for those that approach the university help services. And yet I’ve head so many experiences of friends of mine that feel isolated by the university. Perhaps student services needs to find a way of being more approachable or more accessible. There is definitely a problem with mental health in this university that isn’t being addressed, and while I recognize the right of Student Aervices to rightly defend themselves, I commend The Saint on bringing to light how isolated some students with mental illness feel.

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