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Journalism trainer demands more support after counselling ‘suicidal’ students

Lisa-Bradley-200sqA journalism trainer has raised concerns about a shortage of mental health support for students after revealing she has to come to the aid of some who feel “suicidal”.

Lisa Bradley, deputy head of journalism studies at the University of Sheffield, says the amount of pastoral care now needed by journalism students is “off the scale”.

Lisa, pictured, has also opened up on her experience of students forming “unhealthy attachments” after she wrote a new novel inspired by the issue.

Her book The Lesson explores the rise of suicide rates on campuses, the pressures students are put under and the power imbalances that can occur between lecturers and students.

Speaking to HTFP about the issue, the former deputy editor of the Wakefield Express said: “All lecturers I know feel they spend more time dealing with students’ mental health and issues than actual teaching. We have office hours, two a week, dedicated to seeing students. We need this twice daily to fit everyone in.

“From heartbreak to existential crisis, concern over an exam mark to guttural sobs that they think they can’t do it. From feeling homesick to feeling suicidal.

“Lectures are the front line when it comes to dealing with these issues – and we are not trained counsellors. Nor, dare I say it, should we be. We are taught to signpost to an overstretched and underfunded mental health student support system that we all know will not be able to see them for weeks. If not months.

“Apart from the obvious calls for extra funding – I’m not sure what the answer is. Mental health is underfunded in all areas, not just higher education. But perhaps reducing fees would take some of that immediate pressure off students who go to university needing to feel they have a change of success, not being set up to fail.”

Lisa, who has been teaching for 10 years, said there had been a “steady increase” in mental issues among students – citing factors including social media and the current cost of studying.

She added: “In a department like journalism, contact hours are high, the learning is experiential – so you’re out doing the actual job, it’s not nine to five and it can be demanding and an incredibly steep and scary learning curve when you are put out of your comfort zone.

“That on top of worrying about whether there will actually be any jobs when you graduate, how hard you have to work to get ahead of the competition, how you’re going to get all your assignments done because no one is calling you back.

“There is a huge jump between secondary education and higher education. The first year at univiersity is more about learning how to learn independently, understanding that to become a critical thinker, you are not going to be told what to say, what to write, what to think.

“Secondary education has changed so much – they leave an environment where each teaching session they are told at the start what they are gong to learn, how they are going to learn it and then a check back at the end to make sure they have learnt it.

“No wonder they feel lost. The pressure to achieve is all encompassing.”

The Lesson is published by Quercus.

Discussing her new book, Lisa told Yorkshire Live: “Obviously the book is fiction, but it was inspired by the obvious needs of young people today.

“I’ve been lecturing now for 10 years and the amount of pastoral care that students need is off the scale now.

“It’s so hard when we are not trained counsellors, but we are human too. And because waiting lists can be so long for those needing mental health professionals, it can become all consuming.

“The book centres around the issues that can occur when unhealthy attachments do start to form, which I have experienced, but I hope more than anything it highlights the need for more funding for higher education and the broader NHS to be able to increase this support for young people.”