Mental health at university

Going to university can be a huge leap into the unknown. For most students, it's their first taste of living away from home, which in itself can be a stressful transition. Stress can come from other sources too, like financial or academic pressure. Taking care of your mental health is therefore extremely important  at university, and beyond.

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Mental health problems can often feel like your
head is in overdrive, but help is available.

How to get support

All universities have student services that offer mental health support such as counselling and therapy. Alternatively, if you visit your GP either at home or at university, they can recommend the best course of action.

Depending on the nature of your problem, there may be specialist services that could be of help. For example, if you're particularly stressed about your finances, you could seek financial guidance or assistance from the student support service.

If you're concerned about your academic performance, you should be able to approach your personal tutor or a relevant member of staff to seek help. In some situations, you may be eligible for extensions on deadlines.

There are a number of charities and organisations that are available to provide free and confidential advice, including Student MindsSamaritans, Mind, SANE and Mental Health Foundation.

Rehab 4 Addiction offers a free hotline dedicated to helping people suffering from drug, alcohol and mental health issues. It was founded in 2011 by people who overcame addiction themselves. You can contact Rehab 4 Addiction on 0800 140 4690.

If you feel you've been the victim of sexism at university, there are a number of other dedicated support services.

Why are students particularly vulnerable?

Financial pressure

While financial strain is widely accepted as a major stressor in students and adults alike, there have been suggestions that the increase in tuition fees in 2012 has added to this. Although it's important to note that correlation isn't causation, there are striking statistics from a number of universities that appear to support this claim:

  • Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, there was a 75% increase in students accessing counselling services at the University of Edinburgh
  • Over the same period, Cardiff University saw a 72% increase
  • The University of Leeds saw a 57% increase
  • The University of Oxford saw a 43% increase

Academic pressure

The stress of exams, coursework and expectation is nothing new to students, but the intensity and nature of it at university can come as something of a shock. More than at any other time in their lives, students are asked to learn independently, to manage their own time, and to think critically and originally. For many students, this sudden burden of responsiblity can be overwhelming and serve as a significant source of stress.

Feeling like you should be enjoying yourself

Before you start, and throughout your time as a student, people will say that university is the best time of your life. For many people it will be, but for those who aren't as fortunate, the added pressure of feeling as though you must have fun can add to the problem.

Your first-ever fresh start

Before starting university, only a small minority of students are likely to have moved to a different area or school, or have done anything else that involved a completely fresh start – that is, a new life, with new friends and a new home. At university, along with everything else that changes, students are expected to make a whole new group of friends and get settled into their new home.


Being bullied  from deliberate exclusion and name-calling to harassment and physical bullying – is something that must be addressed at university. There'll be people at your university who you can talk to, such as your student union's welfare officer and others who've experienced it themselves. The NUS has an advice page on how to deal with bullying in student accommodation and there are also charities with helplines, including BullyingUK and the Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation.   

What are universities doing about mental health?

Universities have a responsibility to take the mental health of their students seriously, and many do an excellent job in dealing with it. From dedicated advisors for students with diagnosed mental health issues to drop-in counselling and therapy services, each university will have its own way of helping their students and making sure they feel valued.

What are the facts on students' mental health?

According to a survey by the National Union of Students (NUS) in late 2015, 78% of students in the UK said they'd experienced mental health issues in the last year. This same survey revealed that 33% of respondents had experienced suicidal thoughts, and among those who didn't identify as heterosexual, the figure stood at 55%.

More than half of respondents to the NUS survey (of 1,093 students) who reported having mental health problems also said that they didn't seek support, with a third saying that they wouldn't know where to get support from, and 40% reporting that they'd be nervous about any help they'd receive.

In the academic year 2014-15, over 43,000 students at Russell Group institutions alone had counselling. Three years earlier, the figure was 34,000.

Regarding student suicides, the most recent data available from The Office for National Statistics reports on the situation in 2013, when the figure stood at 100 full-time students. Of the 100, 74 were male, and 26 were female.
In May 2016 a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by NUS Scotland revealed that the number of students in Scotland seeking help with mental health issues has increased by 47% over a four-year period.