In its mental health and wellbeing policy, the University acknowledges that, “mental health is as important as physical health” and “accepts that, on average, one in four people will experience a mental health difficulty.”
The policy states that the University will work to ensure that students and staff who have mental health difficulties “receive suitable support and adjustments to their work or study circumstances to allow them to achieve their fullest potential.”
This policy is admirable and reflects an awareness of the importance of mental health issues within our student body. Yet sadly, as today’s front-page article shows, this policy is not being universally followed by academic schools. In fact, in some cases, it is being blatantly disregarded.
The academics in question failed in their duty of care to the student in question with their insensitivity towards his mental health issues. The idea that an academic in a position of authority should suggest that a student with serious mental health issues should consider leaving their studies is simply unacceptable and completely out of step with the ethos of St Andrews. Additionally, the breach of confidence may leave students in similar positions wary of speaking out and undermines students’ faith in the University’s ability to ensure their wellbeing.
The academic in question neither “prevented circumstances detrimental to mental health” nor “provided an environment” in which the student in question “received suitable support” as the University’s policy requires.
This instance shows that there is still much to be done in terms of the way the University handles students struggling with mental illnesses.
Currently, each academic school within the University determines its own policy with regards to academic alerts, extensions, and extenuating circumstances. Thus, some schools appear to handle cases of mental illness with less care than others. This discrepancy creates confusion for students who may then be hesitant to come forward with their disabilities.Thus, preventing students in need of University support from receiving it.
The University needs to not only acknowledge the importance of supporting students with mental health issues in theory, but must also ensure its policies are implemented in practice.The University must recognise that having an eloquently phrased mental health policy is nothing without its uniform enforcement across all academic schools.
Uniform enforcement across academic schools will guarantee students a certain degree of security, which will increase confidence in the University. Students, knowing what to expect, will be more likely to come forward and seek help in extenuating circumstances, whether they be related to mental health or bereavement.
It is all too likely that many students have come and gone from our University without feeling comfortable disclosing their mental health issues. Thereby, graduating without support that would have undoubtedly enabled them to not only have a better University experience, but also perform better academically throughout.
We hope that the issue at hand will encourage change and reform to the implementation of the current mental health and wellbeing policy. A clear, universally applicable, statement of how the University’s policy will be executed would be warmly welcomed by us all.