University is a tumultuous time; for many it may be the first time away from home, their first time studying in such a different environment and a whole set of expectations that they feel powerless to fulfil.

It’s brilliant that in recent years society has begun to view the issue of mental health in a more open way; whilst there is still stigma involved in admitting that one is struggling and seeking therapy or counselling society as a whole and universities are beginning to deal with the issue. The student advice centre and the student counselling centre are outstanding resources provided by the University of Leeds and Leeds University Union respectively but they are not enough. The number of students seeking counselling at universities nationwide has increased by 50% in the last five years, according to statistics acquired by the Guardian (see here).

Our educational needs are affected by our mental health. It’s far less likely for us to succeed and reach our full potential if our mental health is poor. There is strain on services at the university so personal tutors have a huge role to play here. Tutors are meant to be our mentors during our time at university being our first point of call for academic needs. Not only is this too often not the case (with plenty of students complaining that they only meet their personal tutors once a semester feeling they’re distant) but they should have a vital role in pastoral care too. As previously mentioned personal tutors are responsible for the academic needs of a student and the pastoral needs often intersect with this. Increased stress, pressure and various personal issues may affect our education in an adverse way.

Personal tutors should be trained in basic mental health support to help guide students pastorally. The personal tutor system is a brilliant idea but it is not being fully utilised. This has to be instigated on a university-wide level with staff who are assigned tutees attending seminars and training sessions with an emphasis on how to support and empathise with the needs of students in particular. Be they traditional or mature. Undergraduate or postgraduate. Home or international.

As students we are already paying ridiculous amounts already with undergraduate fees increasing to £9,250 from next year to new entry students and fees for international students also on the rise too. We expect far more for our money.

Zak Kaf Al-Ghazal

(Image courtesy of Empower)

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