Keep proper journalism alive. It's time to Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

Turned away: “I don’t know where that magic middle ground is”

Students say support is lacking for severe mental health needs, as Zoe found out.

Ideas and Action

Students say support is lacking for severe mental health needs, as Zoe found out.

“In the first few years of uni I was turned away because I wasn’t serious enough. Then when I was finally diagnosed I was turned away because I was too serious and too much of a risk.”

Zoe Hudson-Rose is a student at Bristol University, which has been criticised for not doing enough on mental health.

After suffering from physical and mental health problems, they are fighting the university to finish their degree (Hudson-Rose prefers using they/them pronouns).

“When you have an episode of emotional intensity, it’s like being in the middle of a tornado. I can see what I’m doing but I can’t stop it or control it, which is really scary”

They were turned away by the counselling service when feeling depressed in 2015. “I survived, but I felt very isolated. The thing that saved me was Peace of Mind society. It made me feel a lot less alone and more validated.”

The following March they were diagnosed with mild Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a stigmatised condition often associated with extreme behaviour. The diagnosis left them shaken and upset, but the counselling service said they were now too much of a risk and needed long-term private psychotherapy, which they couldn’t afford.

They were eventually seen a few months later after telling the counselling service they had gone through a sequence of serious personal events. “It was annoying that it had to get to that point. I don’t really know where that magic middle ground is.”

After suspending their studies last academic year, which was “the only option left”, they were kicked out of university for failing more modules.

Having already retaken years because of physical health problems, the university said they’d had their last chance. Only after an appeal and months of waiting were they allowed to continue their studies, which restart this September.

Recent protest for better mental health support at Bristol Uni

Their physical health problems complicate matters further. “I have a rare form of arthritis, which affects every aspect of my life. For a while that made me really isolated and made it hard to make friends, which made me depressed.”

“We all know the real issue is funding and in some cases a lack of training. The counselling service is understaffed and it’s not helped that Bristol Wellbeing Therapies, a general NHS service, has an even longer waiting list,” they say.

“The counselling service is the best option you’ve got, but it’s still not a good option – people are waiting for up to six months. Even if you’re in crisis you still have to wait for about a month – that’s not good enough.”

Hudson-Rose describes the new £1m wellbeing service as “glorified signposting”, adding that more counselling staff is what’s actually needed. They want to see better communication between different departments across the university, a clearer, more accessible system for extenuating circumstances with a lower proof threshold and mental health training for tutors.

They add that the counselling service is having to deal with a huge wave of students with complex needs that would usually be seen by the NHS. “Realistically they need to see a psychiatrist so there’s a limit to what counsellors can do. With the state of the NHS at the moment, (student counselling) are under so much more pressure.”

“You’re under so much pressure academically, you’re stressed, overworked, and then people say ‘but these are the best years of your life’. It can feel like the end of the world”

Mental health problems seem to particularly arise when people go to university, Hudson-Rose says. “You’re under so much pressure academically, you’ve put so much money into this, you’re stressed, overworked, you probably haven’t eaten or slept enough, and then people say ‘but these are the best years of your life’. It can feel like the end of the world.”

They think a lot of stigma remains around bipolar, BPD and schizophrenia, because people think of “really problematic stereotypes they see in the media”. For them, BPD means “having the same emotions as other people but more intense”. “When you have an episode of emotional intensity, it’s like being in the middle of a tornado. I can see what I’m doing but I can’t stop it or control it, which is really scary.”

The university has hired two mental health advisors to direct students with complex mental health needs to support.“Lots of students will come to uni with complex mental health problems or the stress of uni is going to trigger them. Two specialists is not enough,” Hudson-Rose says.

It’s no easy task to improve Bristol University’s mental health services, especially when they also have to pick up the slack of underfunded NHS services. However, despite the recent investment, some students remain unconvinced. “You need to commit to it and I don’t think our Vice Chancellor is going to do that.”

From edition 16, OUT NOW!

front cover of the edition 16Read more from this edition.

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?


Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

‘Academic and support staff are suffering – it’s time for universities to dip into their rainy day funds’

University of Bristol staff deserve a pay rise after years of real-terms cuts, so why won’t it lift salaries? Recent growth is unsustainable, and investing in pay could help not just workers but local businesses and the city.

Bristol student who took her own life had mental health disorder ignored, judge rules

Natasha Abrahart’s parents argued that her university failed to make allowances for her social anxiety disorder.

‘Simply inconceivable’ university didn’t owe duty of care to student with severe social anxiety, court told

Natasha Abrahart, a physics undergraduate at the University of Bristol, took her own life the day before she was due to give a presentation.

The clinical psychologist specialising in sexual assault: ‘I’ve not had any clients with positive experiences of reporting’

With sexual violence under the spotlight again at Bristol University, a psychologist with clients who are survivors of assault speaks out.

Bristol Uni staff strike again to protect their pensions, pay and conditions

Despite the disruption to their degrees over the last 18 months, some students are backing their lecturers’ action even if it means more missed learning.

Research by University of Bristol Students’ Union reveals half of respondents have experienced sexual harassment

Survey findings released today put the thorny issue of consent back under the spotlight at the University of Bristol.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning