The death of Theo Brennan Hulme on 12 March shocked the entire UEA community. This is the fourth student death in just ten months, after Jonathan Walker died on 13 May, Jess Fairweather died on 11 October, and police found the body of Nick Sadler at the UEA Lake after a week-long search in February.
Along with shock and sadness at this news, many people are rightly asking questions about the systemic problems within the welfare infrastructure at UEA.
In its current form it is not fit for purpose. Despite the various services UEA offers and the hard work of its staff, one student reported waiting as long as four months to be seen by Student Support Services (SSS). This is clear evidence of an institutional crisis and the need for drastic change.
The Vice Chancellor David Richardson is correct to announce a ‘taskforce’ to review this issue, but we also need a thorough investigation into the entire student support infrastructure. Those who work in SSS, academic departments, and UEASU can only do their best within the welfare system they operate in. Once problems are more clearly identified, they can be more thoroughly addressed.
Equally, while the announcement of an extra £250,000 investment to SSS is of course welcome, it simply isn’t enough – it’s not even £17 per student. UEA needs to make the mental health of its students and staff the top priority and the first consideration when it comes to their budget.
But alongside proper funding, there also needs to be a complete shift in approach. As a society we are thankfully more open about our mental health, but too often it is still seen as a distinct issue rather than as something that intersects with all aspects of professional and personal life.
Just as everything is political, everything is related to mental health. Changes to reading lists, putting lecture slides online, switching rooms, assessment feedback – these are all factors that can affect mental health. It isn’t simply a case of increasing funding to SSS – which is necessary and right – but instead UEA must consider how mental health both impacts and is impacted by everything else on and off campus.
This is part of a wider societal problem, and one that affects East Anglia. According to MIND, one in four people will experience mental health problems in a year, and in November 2018 the Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust was rated inadequate for the third time, making it the worst performing mental health trust in England. We don’t exist in a vacuum: UEA needs to address this and lobby for local and national changes beyond the campus.
Mental health is such a complex issue, and everyone is different. It is clear that UEA’s welfare system needs to change, but there is certainly help available. Please seek help if you need it.
Alternatively you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 24-hours a day or email firstname.lastname@example.org