Letter to the editor: Student Services is not a medical centre

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In response to ‘Student mistakenly expelled due to University mental health policy‘ by Laura Abernethy (6 March 2014) and ‘Mental health – we must speak out‘ (Editorial, 6 March 2014) to add to the points made in ‘University responds to mental health articles‘ by Professor Lorna Milne (Letter, 10 March 2014)

Sir,

I would like to respond to your articles criticising the support the University provides for individuals with mental health issues.

First and foremost, mental health issues are a medical concern. The University does not provide the medical resources that the NHS does, but has services in place to help students navigate the impact of such issues on their academic career. The University has neither the resources nor legal ability to intervene to the extent some of the students you interviewed would wish.

One big thing I think people are mistakenly expecting is that Student Services has loads of resources to provide students with ‘personal care’. They are limited to the few resources they have and do the best they can for students. The Student Services staff are genuinely concerned about students, but are limited in what they can do. It seems like the students in the article want the limited staff to waste their time chasing up people who miss appointments (meaning a time is lost that another student could have used) when the student is not at imminent risk (which the counsellors are trained to evaluate, but are likely to have already sent the student to crisis services in the NHS). This is what the NHS does as well – you miss an appointment, a letter may be sent out eventually, but the NHS has loads of support staff dedicated to such admin.

My undergraduate university in the US had an official Counselling Center with clinical and counselling psychologist and psychiatrist on staff. This was effectively a private mental health service. Even with these additional resources, the Counselling Center was still legally limited to what they could share with other parts of the university, leading to similar issues faced by students here.

However, this costs a good deal of money and was supported by an additional fee separate from tuition. The university also had a Health Center, with doctors and nurse on staff (also covered by an additional student fee). These facilities were also in place because there was no NHS to provide necessary medical treatment – many students did not have the necessary health insurance to get the medical help they needed for both mental and physical illnesses. Scottish/UK universities don’t have this option to charge such fees in addition to tuition – both are mixed together. The University simply doesn’t have the resources to be a private mental health service, which is what some of these students seem to want.

Please reflect on what resources the University can realistically supply, from the pragmatic considerations of financial cost and legal ability.

Sincerely,
Melissa Lent Schapero

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