Kingston University student struggles for mental health support

A Kingston University (KU) student who lost his part-time job due to the coronavirus pandemic has struggled to access university mental health services for the past seven months.

The second-year student, who wishes to remain anonymous, can still access 4.5 hours of face-to-face teaching a week but claims all the well-being services have moved online.

The 20-year-old is also struggling financially after losing his receptionist job because of the pandemic.

He said: “There is nowhere that you can go to talk to someone on that day to get help. It’s all online appointments now, which can be tricky for people having mental health trouble.

“A Microsoft Teams call is more worrying than seeing someone in real life.”

Before Covid-19, the student said there were drop-in well-being sessions on the KU campus.

However, the sessions ended in March, and the new online system has left the student unsure how to access help.

He added: “They need to make it easier to access the services, it doesn’t have to be face to face, it just needs to be more available, more information as to how to access them.”

A spokesperson for Kingston University said that the health and well-being of all staff and students remains their top priority.

The spokesperson added: “Our disability and mental health advisers are on hand to offer online advisory appointments as well as pre-booked face-to-face drop-in sessions on campus.

“The face-to-face sessions take place in our Town House building on Penrhyn Road. Online sessions are available every weekday, with face-to-face sessions available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”

Speaking as part of a Twickenham trip last week, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Kingston & Surbiton, Sir Ed Davey, said coronavirus had made university life even more challenging for young people.

Davey said that big things need to be done with regards to upgrades to university counselling and mentoring services.

He added: “I think the situation is really difficult and students need a lot of support. I can’t imagine how tough it must be.”

The Kingston student also highlighted the need for a doctor’s letter to get counselling as a major barrier, especially for first-year students who are new to the area and have not signed up with a local GP.

He said that he knows first-hand the difficulty of getting a doctor’s appointment at the moment while trying to access care for his back.

KU has continued with a summer pledge to keep 30% of teaching in-person, despite coronavirus cases on campus and serious concerns among staff and students.

The Union representing KU Staff members have also unanimously put in a vote of no confidence in the University’s current coronavirus approach, saying that it puts both teachers and students at risk.

Staff are moving remaining lessons online as both students and staff have safety concerns.

The student said: “Lecturers are noticing that not many people are coming in and moving things online. But the University doesn’t seem to have even noticed.

“I think they are keeping things open to try and manage their reputation when it’s probably not necessarily the safest thing to do.

“There are reports of universities desperately trying to keep everything open until the tuition fee deadline. I think with Kingston there is definitely a bit of that to try and make sure they get the tuition fees in.”

Nick Freestone, a UCU Union representative at the KU, spoke to the Surrey Comet last week, saying that the University had guaranteed students face-to-face teaching.

He added that the Union was not involved in any discussions involving the policy to teach 30% of classes face-to-face and was very unhappy about the current situation.

A spokesperson for KU has said that there are extensive measures in places to provide a Covid-secure environment on campus.

The spokesperson said: “This includes increased cleaning and sanitising, wearing face coverings in all indoor spaces, and encouraging all staff and students to wash hands frequently and to maintain a distance of at least one meter, preferably two.”

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