Students have praised Aberdeen’s two universities for helping them combat mental health problems.
New data shows Aberdeen University is spending record levels on counselling services and Robert Gordon University has announced more staff training and more help online.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, the Evening Express asked both universities how it supports students.
Aberdeen University said it is spending £308,111 on mental health services in the current academy year, compared with £274,084 in 2014/15 – a 12% rise.
Over the same period, the number of its students accessing the service has risen from 657 to 939 – a 42% rise – and the number of counsellors has risen from six to eight.
As of March 29, the average waiting time to access services was four days.
RGU said it could not provide similar data as it operates a different system for student access to services.
Some students see a wellbeing adviser and are prioritised for an appointment based on severity of need, while others get help from a drop-in service.
RGU’s student life director Filippo Antoniazzi said: “One such service is our Student Counselling and Wellbeing Centre, where students can receive support and talk over issues including anxiety and depression, adjusting to university life, relationships and bereavement.
“These services have been boosted with an increase in number of counsellors, while the ResLife team has undergone Scottish Mental Health First Aid training and we have been working to train up to 150 further staff over the current academic cycle.”
Among those who sought help while she was studying in the city was Emma Pettigrew.
Now 24, Emma suffers from a vitamin deficiency which causes depression.
She said: “Aberdeen University really is doing some great things and offering a brilliant service to students.
“A few weeks ago they did a social media campaign about mental health awareness. That’s important as it’s one thing to have the service and another to proactively let people know it’s there.”
Read Emma’s full story here
A current RGU student, who asked not to be named, said: “I developed pretty bad anxiety and went to a wellbeing adviser. I was able to get help from the university’s inclusion centre and from my GP. It honestly changed my life – I went from not wanting to go into lectures to being totally at ease.
“Looking back now, my only regret is I didn’t ask for help sooner. The support I got was second to none.”
Chaz Ogboke is Aberdeen’s team lead for RedFrogs, a student welfare organisation for the city.
He said: “The figures the Evening Express has uncovered show Aberdeen University is investing significant sums to support students.
“RGU uses a different system, but I am assured they have the mechanisms in place to ensure students get the help they need.
“I’m particularly impressed by RGU’s system, which positions support services in places where students go, such as social areas, making it more informal to seek advice.
“Both universities have their strengths and it would be great to see them working together to share best practice.”
Mr Antoniazzi added: “RGU has a long-standing commitment to supporting the health and wellbeing of its staff and students, undertaking several steps to further improve our provision in this area.
“Our NUS Student Mental Health Agreement, signed between RGU and RGU:Union, has a shared aim to make RGU a place where conversations about mental wellbeing are encouraged and supported, with clear signposting to support services.
“Within the next month, RGU will be launching Silvercloud, which offers immediate access to online cognitive behavioural therapy programmes.
“The university and RGU:Union will continue to work together on a number of initiatives to support our students’ wellbeing, including RGU: Nightline and a peer mentoring programme to ensure every student has access to support wherever and whenever they need it.”
Aberdeen University principal George Boyne said: “Whether you are a member of staff or a student, please remember it is okay not to feel okay – the university has a range of services to support you.”
And an Aberdeen University spokesman said: “The university is committed to the wellbeing of our students and staff, and through our Student Advice and Support Service, we offer a comprehensive range of services that students are made fully aware of from the outset and throughout their time here.
“We are constantly assessing the provision of mental health and other important support services, and since the launch of our mental health and wellbeing strategy in 2016, we have adopted several measures to enhance our range of services, including the appointment of the university’s first full-time mental health adviser, bolstered by mental health mentors to provide additional support to students.
“As a university we are committed to sharing best practice while considering how we can make improvements to our own mental health and other support services. This includes looking at best practice across the higher education sector.”
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