October 10th, World Mental Health Day. A day that is suppose to be dedicated to tackling the mental health crisis in our society. Instead, UCL Student Support and Wellbeing (SSW) have brought in therapy dogs to allow students to pet them to help with term-time anxiety.
While in many circumstances one-on-one therapy with trained dogs can be used as affective healthcare, this is not. SSW is the same department at UCL that has refused to increasing funding for Student Psychological Services (SPS), our university counseling services.
In protest of this ludicrous event, 30 students decided to drop a banner and leaflet the main quad saying “UCL: fund our mental health services”.
In the past few years, the number of students at UCL has more than doubled, but funding for SPS has more or less remained the same. As a result, our mental health services are completely overstretched. Only about two thirds of the students who sign up for services ever actually receive support, and even then after a minimum 6 weeks waiting.
The mental health crisis in universities is very real. Most students, particularly those in London, face the pressure to balance part-time work with full-time study. High rent and little or no living grants means that students have to work or be made homeless. The financial support both at UCL and nationally is dismal and doesn’t help students in a time of crisis.
Furthermore, the Tory reforms that have led to the privatization and underfunding of the NHS, making access to mental health services virtually inaccessible for millions of people in the UK. Now more that ever, it is the duty of UCL to meet its fundamental obligation as a public university to support the health of students throughout their time on their campus.
Last year, Students’ Union UCL carried out a review of mental health services at UCL and found that we needed at least 6.5 counselors so that the students who registered for the services could actually been seen. The SU estimates that this will cost about £340,000 annually, which is just a tiny fraction of UCL’s wealth.
UCL tells us that they don’t have the money to fund these vital services, but this is simply not true. The Provost alone, Michael Arthur, makes more than what we’re asking for – not including bonuses and other perks. 196 people in UCL management make at least £140,000 a year, again not including bonuses or perks; altogether that’s about £30 million. The uni’s turn over exceeded £1.3 billion in 2016 alone with it growing rapidly every year. The money is there to fund SPS, UCL just chooses not to.
We are angry at the visible inequality at our university – where the highest paid people live so well, while the workers and students who make up the university struggle so much. This divide exist beyond campus. These are the divides that keep the bottom in our society from accessing basic rights from education and healthcare to housing and fair pay.
However this can change. The banner drop is the only start of the campaign. Wednesday, 18 October will be the first open meeting for the SU-run campaign; students interested in getting involved should come along. Through direct action and student support we can materially change the condition of the many on our campus.
But this means that normal students have to stand up, organize, and demand their rights. Join us in this campaign and we won’t stop until we win!