Mental Health at University

As fun and valuable an experience university can be, it is also a huge leap into the unknown. For most students it is their first taste of living away from home, which in itself can be a hugely stressful transition. Couple this with financial strain and academic pressure, and it's no wonder that mental health problems are so common in university students.

What are the facts?

Human head thinking (iStock)
iStock © ARTQU
Mental health problems can often feel like your head
is in overdrive – but help is available
  • According to a survey by the National Union of Students (NUS) in late 2015, 78% of students in the UK said they had experienced mental health issues in the last year. This same survey revealed that 33% of respondents had had suicidal thoughts, and among those who did not 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 would be nervous about any help they would 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.

Why are students so vulnerable?

Financial pressure

While financial strain is widely accepted as a major stressor in students and adults alike, there have been suggestions that the recent increase in tuition fees (effective for students enrolling in September 2012) has further added to this. Although its important to note that correlation is not causation, there are striking statistics from a number of universities that appear to support this claim:

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 does nothing but add to the problem.

Your first ever fresh start

Prior to starting university, only a small minority of students are likely to have moved to a different area, different school, or have done anything else that has meant a completely fresh start – that is, a new life, with new friends and 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.

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 are particularly stressed about your finances, you could seek financial guidance or assitance 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.
  • If you feel you have been the victim of sexism at university, there are a number of other dedicated support services.