Mental health support is still very much available for the current student cohort, as universities rapidly adapt to technology investment and digitisation, says Dr Ian Jackson.
As universities continue to tackle the impact of COVID-19, today’s undergraduates – mostly young adults living their first independent years – are being asked to adapt at breakneck pace to an experience they weren’t expecting and, in many cases, don’t feel equipped to cope with.
There’s already evidence showing that, for the current university student cohort, declining mental health is an issue, and one enveloped with the extra trauma of loneliness and isolation.
Mental health support, counselling, psychotherapies and psychiatry and GP services are all still very much available, with universities and the health and social care system adapting at speeds not seen before in terms of technology investment and digitisation.
Online appointments – or teleconsultation services – are being deployed across the UK. Professionals are still seeing patients, in both senses of the word. From my discussions with mental health support providers and doctors, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve moved beyond the adaptation phase already, and that the process of accessing digital support is now normalising. But is receiving treatment and therapy via video becoming as normal as the method of delivery?
I spoke to a university psychotherapist working in London, who wishes to remain anonymous, about what teleconsultation has enabled her to provide. She has used this method since March last year, reaching out to student patients who were already receiving one-on-one, face-to-face therapy.
“The connection with me, on the screen, present and ready to listen, has been immensely helpful for many of my student patients. I am certain that we would all rather be in my office, but for some patients, the video call has made therapy more accessible, and this has caused some difficulties. Students, typically, would not receive university-provided therapy during the summer recess in regular volume, but video calling has meant that services have continued. Many in my profession use the recess to study, re-group ourselves, and prepare for the next academic year. This wasn’t possible in 2020.”
“Maintaining the professional and patient relationship, navigating the new variables, such as different times for appointments, privacy issues for the patients, and of course, sometimes, poor connections, adds another extra dimension to our work. As you can imagine, as student mental health support practitioners, we are all aware of how necessary our services are at the moment. There’s a huge commitment to help and support, and teleconsultation is enabling this very efficiently.”
As the pandemic changes shape, we simply can’t lose sight of in-person patient consultations – they are not a past tense issue. COVID-19 is going to dictate student life into next year, and higher education, along with the NHS mental health services need to remain as open and approachable as possible. I believe teleconsultation enables that, particularly as the digitisation of access and bookable services improves with it.
However, we must keep close watch on this generation of young people and move with what they require as much as possible. We’re all aware that, as a nation, we are more upfront about mental health issues than ever before. The dialogue about how support services are provided must remain equally as open.
Refero’s objective is to enable students to have immediate digital access to GPs, mental health clinicians, pharmacists and support for long-term conditions, directly from their halls of residence or student services building.
Find out more about how we can work with universities to offer mental health support to students.