University is a chance to encounter new ideas, people and places – but for all the excitement, the environment can also be a pressure-cooker for mental health problems. Many young people struggle living away from home, friends and family for the first time.
University can be an isolating environment as the change can leave students feeling vulnerable and lonely – for postgraduates students this is enhanced. “It is much harder at the postgraduate level to make friends” says Matteo Pala, a PhD student at the University of Manchester, “most of my work consists of sitting in an office or library, reading and marking.”
According to a survey by the National Union of Students (NUS) the number of first-year students who report a mental health condition is five times greater than it was a decade ago with 78% of students experiencing mental health issues. This figure is three times greater than the general population. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that UK higher education is facing a mental health crisis.
As the mental health charity Mind has pointed out, the rising number of students seeking counselling and other forms of support has coincided with the rise of tuition fees and steepening student debt. It is no surprise then that financial stress was listed the third most cited cause of mental health issues, just behind the pressures of study and work. Career prospects, social media, family, and inequality were the next most commonly mentioned factors. It comes as no surprise that careers are high on the list of student worries; an increasingly competitive job market the stress and uncertainty around graduate employment contributes has been linked to illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
Universities struggle to meet demands
Universities are constantly playing catch up with the demand for mental health services; earlier this year figures revealed that at 100 universities students waited up to four months to access counselling and mental health support. Universities must assess this demand and act accordingly.
The Universities UK framework on mental health has highlighted that student mental health needs to be strategized by universities governing bodies. They place an emphasis on a university-wide approach and collaboration between departments. The group suggest approaching the mental health of “students, young people and staff, so that it permeates every aspect of their work and is embedded across all policies, cultures, curricula and practice.” (Prof. Steve West, Chair, Universities UK Mental Health in Higher Education Working Group, September 2017).
UK Guarantor have put together a short list of useful links and free resources which provide information and support for students experiencing mental ill health and tackling stigma:
Student Mind – a UK-based mental health service and charity specifically for students
Mind – a mental health charity which has a great website and direct helplines
Think Positive– NUS Scotland’s mental health campaign
Start2 – an educational site providing coping tools and activities
Moodgym – online self-help resource for depression and anxiety
These are just a starting point and not a replacement for treatment – for a more comprehensive list of specific support lines go to the NHS forum Moodzone. There are plenty of platforms out there to help you cope with mental health difficulties and connect you with the necessary services.