Mental Health: Is the Uni Doing Enough?

While students at the University of York have rallied to support mental health, the University has presented many challenges. Some students are still experiencing negative effects of the Marking and Assessment Boycott, and find themselves relying on support from fellow students rather than the University, who actually have been a cause for needing support.

This time of the year already presents its challenges to everyone, but the Marking and Assessment Boycott that took place in the summer term of last academic year has not made it any easier.

Though the boycott was called off in September, the unmarked assessments from the summer have carried student anxiety across into this year. Students have received their assessments later than they were told, and some have received their results and feedback weeks later than others. 

In the English and Related Literature department, some assessments that were received left students imploring the University for re-marks. Following this, the Chair of Examiners shared an email with students admitting they had “noted that moderation hadn’t been performed as accurately in one marker’s batch”.

They also allowed a two-mark increase in these contested assessments, and announced to students in an email they would attempt to ensure students’ averages weren’t brought down by assessments submitted during the boycott.

An English student told Vision: “I think some of the ways the English Department has handled the release of marks following the boycott has been disorganised. For example, my Critical Practice module mark was released via the feedback form rather than eVision, then taken away, then put back up. Ultimately, the vagueness and lack of communication since the boycott has been lifted is what has caused me the most stress. Equally, I have friends who are still waiting on module results, which I believe is completely unfair. How come some people have had all their grades for months while others still have nothing?”

  “We know that many of you continue to be affected by the national Marking and Assessment Boycott,” the Academic Registrar Wayne Campbell said in an email to students. “We are very sorry that you have been affected this way.

  “There is still important and necessary work to do on processing the results, before we can inform you of outcomes. We do understand that waiting for clarification on this may feel frustrating.

“We also understand there is some confusion why some students have received marks already. This is due to the fact that we released marks and feedback on a module-by-module basis when complete.”

But a student pointed out that this explanation doesn’t necessarily help: “I find it disgraceful how the uni can try to justify such disparity in releasing its marks to students, particularly after the period of anxiety-inducing waiting caused by the Marking and Assessment Boycott. I have seen how it creates a sense of frustration and panic when some have had marks back and others haven’t, knowing it is fully avoidable if all marks are received at the same time.”

  In an interview on the 27th of September, Deputy Vice Chancellor Ken Badcock told Vision: “I guess we need to try and avoid anxiety where it’s not necessary first, so I think communication is important, and I think the Vice Chancellor sets a good example on that.”

Since then, the student dissatisfaction means the department is working hard on this communication. They hosted a Student Staff Forum on the 15th of November and have set up a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ document for students to use if they need further support.

However, some students haven’t found this communication effective. One student said: “the University has been very unclear throughout the whole process. We have rarely been given dates and when we have been, they have sometimes not been met. Despite reaching out several times, I have still not received a clear answer.”

While many students see the University’s support as “unclear”, events organised and supported by students have been successful this November.

For Movember, 61 sports teams at the University of York held events to raise money for men’s mental and physical health, surpassing their target of £35,000 and reaching £41,000.

Stevie Scott has raised the highest individual amount and been sponsored £950 to do a 60km swim. Meanwhile, the highest-raising team is Anne Lister & David Kato Football, responsible for raising £5,750.

On an Instagram post, they wrote: “Men’s mental health is an important topic often overlooked, so this November, use your mo to raise awareness and understanding for mental health issues.”

The Mental Health Awareness Society has also provided support and advice. They hosted a Men’s Mental Health Panel, where Dr Paul Galdas, Grant Denkinson, Kelly Walker and Alan Chambers answered questions about the social pressure that affects men’s mental health.

 “You see it in hyper-masculine environments: the police force, sports stadiums, those sorts of things,” Paul Galdas from the Department of Health Sciences said. “For example, retirement is a really big thing for men in terms of their masculine identity… the highest rate of suicide in men is between 40 and 49.”

 “There’s a lot of difficult stuff out there,” mental health nurse Kelly Walker said of negative influences on masculinity. “They get drawn in and they engage in those kinds of behaviours… It’s about educating people on what’s online.”

Coach and Counsellor Adam Chambers added: “I think it’s impossible not to be affected by it and pretty much impossible to avoid.”

They also responded to the stigma that can be attached to advocacy for men’s mental health; for example, International Men’s Day which was celebrated on the 19th of November is not officially recognised by the United Nations, while International Women’s Day is.

“It’s understanding what led to that behaviour,” Open Door practitioner Grant Denkinson told Vision. “It’s not zero sum. There’s a system that affects everyone.”

The Mental Health Awareness Society’s Instagram page also provides information through posts about Seasonal Affective Disorder and International Stress Awareness Week, which was from the 30th of October to the 3rd of November. 

With less emphasis on students struggling with mental health, in his email Wayne Campbell said: “I hope this email explains the process we are going through.”

Meanwhile, students’ extensive work into understanding, explaining and supporting the complexities of mental health has enabled students to have a safe space to talk about and be supported regarding their mental health.

 While the University may have caused extra stress for students this semester, students have taken the initiative in raising awareness and support for their own mental health. With the comparison to the efforts students have gone to for mental health support, one finds themselves asking: is the University doing enough?