It’s a well-known fact that the majority of students at Imperial will experience some mental health difficulties during their studies. Typically, the first place they are sent is to the Imperial Counselling Service. However, to send students there by default operates under the assumption that the service is fit for purpose; in its current state, it most certainly isn’t.
According to last year’s Mentality survey, 40% of students waited over 3 weeks to be seen, with just under a fifth of students waiting over six weeks. If a student is struggling, by the time the counselling service offers them help, the moment has often passed. Moreover, each student is only offered a handful of appointments per year, with a maximum of seven being offered to students most at risk. These time constraints mean that students often felt like they only received generic advice, could only tackle superficial issues they were facing, and some reported feeling under pressure to use the sessions as efficiently as possible which only ended up generating additional anxiety. One student even reported feeling like they were burdening the service just by using it.
Evidently, the service that’s supposed to be making students feel better isn’t doing its job. The service’s biggest failing is clearly its waiting times. An important part of mental health services is checking if there is any immediate risk to the patient, which cannot be done weeks after they’ve asked to be seen. It’s not asking too much to have a counselling service that offers initial appointment within a few days of enquiry, especially when other college services offer similar; Ethos has an online booking system for activities and classes where you can even get same day slots. The fact that you can take an Ethos induction on the same day as you booked it and yet have to wait six weeks for a counselling appointment is staggering, and just goes to demonstrate how off college priorities are.
“The current status quo of mental health provision at Imperial is not acceptable”
Now, that’s not to say that the counselling service is at fault. In fact, they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got – which is exactly the problem. More importantly, the issue with the service is twofold: not only is the counselling service underfunded, but it also doesn’t have any room to expand. The service is in some hidden-away corridor in the Sherfield Building, with no more rooms to house counsellors even if the funds were available. There isn’t even a waiting room: you just have to stand in the corridor, awkwardly waiting for the counsellor to call you in. Frankly, the current location is just embarrassing.
This is a complete slap in the face when you consider how much room on campus is dedicated to college staff that have no contact with students whatsoever. Some obvious examples are the Blue Cube Faculty Building and significant sections of the Sherfield Building; the majority of the staff there don’t need to be located on campus, let alone in such central locations. There’s plenty of room for the counselling service to expand, it’s just the college do not consider it important enough to inconvenience themselves with the moving process.
The current status quo is not acceptable. With the creation of the White City campus, discussions are happening right now to decide what’s moving to the new campus and what’s staying in South Kensington. This gives us the perfect opportunity to fight for counselling service expansion, but this will only succeed with student action behind it. To find out more about the campaign, come to ICU’s World Mental Health Day event on the 10th October, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help make this the year where things finally change!