Student Minds is the UK’s student mental health charity and trains students and staff in universities across the UK to deliver student-led peer support interventions as well as research-driven campaigns and workshops. It is committed to transforming the state of student mental health so that all in higher education can thrive.
Student Minds has just published its annual report with some interesting facts and figures that suggests universities are taking mental health issues much more seriously. During 2016/17 120 universities have been directly supported through the charity and 88 universities have been supported through student groups and staff-run workshops.
As the report says this is why.
Nearly 50% of young people enter Higher Education. For many, university is the first time living independently away from established networks of family support. In adjusting to the student lifestyle, many students struggle to maintain healthy day-to-day routines and experience academic, social and financial pressures. Roughly a third of students report psychological distress (Bewick, 2008) during these formative years. In relation to diagnosable mental illness, many of the pressures can result in irregular sleeping patterns, poor diet, work pressures, lack of exercise and alcohol consumption, which are all risk factors for developing mental illness.
The median age of Higher Education students overlaps the peak age of onset, with 75% of all mental health difficulties developing by mid-20s (RCPsych, 2011). Anxiety and depression are the most commonly experienced mental illness in the student population, but students also experience eating disorders, self-harm, OCD, bipolar disorder, psychosis and personality disorders. All of this can contribute to decreased performance and interpersonal problems (ACHA, 2007), leading to academic failure and dropout, job difficulties and negative social outcomes (Patel et al, 2007).
In recent years there has sadly been an increase in the number of student deaths by suicide (IPPR, 2017). There are substantial barriers to providing adequate care for the student population associated with many students living between multiple cities. Both Universities and the NHS are struggling to meet demand, with insufficient resources leading to long waiting times. Stigma, the fear of being judged and low disclosure also presents challenges.
We believe it doesn’t need to be like this. Effective early- intervention, preventative approaches and ongoing support for both those with and those supporting someone with mental health difficulties would improve the futures of millions of young people.