Your Mental Health Matters

Kirsty Macleod is a Mental Health and Wellbeing coordinator at City of Glasgow College who helped developed the provision that they offer to students to support their mental health and wellbeing across the different college departments. Mental health support for students is high on the agenda of the Scottish government and they have recently funded additional Student Counsellor posts in colleges. Susie Daniels talks to Kirsty about her important role…

How long have you been in your job, what did you study and why did you choose this profession?
Since August 2018 – it was a new post in the college so it’s been hard work but a really interesting and exciting role. I’ve been a qualified social worker for 10 years and my background is working in NHS mental health teams including Early Intervention in psychosis and crisis teams. I’ve also been a trainer for volunteers working with refugees in Spain.

Has there been an increase in mental health and wellbeing problems in colleges and universities since you first started (when was that) and why do you think that is?
The amount of students accessing the Student Mental Health team has grown year on year, it’s tricky to say if this is down to an increase in mental health and wellbeing problems as we’ve done a lot of work to promote the service and ran anti-stigma campaigns – so it could also be a reflection of students being more aware of how to access support.
There is a real drive to increase the support in colleges and the Scottish Government has recently funded additional Student Counsellor posts in colleges.

Are people more willing to chat about problems?
There’s been a lot of work and campaigns over the last few years to reduce the stigma about talking about their mental health but a lot of people still feel uncomfortable about it for a lot of reasons. We find that often students that are on apprenticeships or courses that are linked to their employment can be more cautious because they’re concerned that it will have an effect on their job.

Are the problems and issues becoming more complex?
Students have always faced complex issues – past trauma, gender based violence, relationship issues, bereavement, financial hardship, housing issues, assessment and course pressures, care experienced, social media challenges, feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression, body image, identity and sexuality issues, balancing paid work with studying – these are just some of the things that students face and often several things at one time. The difference is now more are coming forward to get support.

What support in mental health and wellbeing are students offered and how regular can they meet up with a representative from university/college?
We offer short term counselling; free yoga classes; mindfulness courses; events where students can find out about support services outside of college; guidance support with their lecturer; mental health and wellbeing co-ordinator support, learning support, free entry to gym and sports societies scheme for students accessing the student mental health team; wellbeing workshops run by the Students Association and a student advice daily drop-in service that offers support regarding finances, housing, careers, jobs and bullying. How often a student can meet up with a college worker depends on the service they are accessing.

Should every student meet up with a mental health and wellbeing officer each term if they don’t do so already and what would be the benefit of that? Would it be too costly for the college?
Every student that disclosed a mental health difficulty on their application form will be offered regular meetings with the Learning Support team and be given information on what other support is available to them.
Everyone can benefit from taking care of their mental health and wellbeing but how we do that is really individual, so for some people meeting up with a mental health worker each term to talk through things could be really helpful while other students may prefer to access different types of services.

How many cases do you come across annually?
In academic year 2018/19 13% (2,556) of the total course applications to the college disclosed a disability, of which 27% (682) selected mental health. In 2019/20 14% (2,806) of total applications disclosed a disability, of which 29% (817) selected mental health.

Nearly 300 students were referred to our Student Counselling service last academic year and we have already reached 400 student referrals for 19/20 so it’s set to increase. However, it’s important to point out that this is just counselling referrals – the figure of students that are experiencing mental health issues will be much, much higher but it’s hard to get an accurate number as some people never reach out for support or may speak to someone outside the college like their GP and not disclose their issues to college.

What sort of things do students discuss?
The most common presenting difficulties that students present to the Student Counselling service are anxiety and depression.

Are there a particular age group or sex/sexual orientation that is more vulnerable?
Mental health research has shown that the LGBTI community are more vulnerable to developing mental health issues.
The majority of mental health problems will develop before age 24 so it’s vital that support is offered to students so they can get support early. In relation to gender – there is a higher rate of suicide amongst men, however last year the rate of young females dying by suicide was at an all-time high.
This shows that it is vital that mental health is diverse and meets the different needs of the groups that need it most.