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 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.
- How to get support
- Why are students so vulnerable?
- What are universities doing about mental health?
- What are the facts?
- 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 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: Samaritans, Mind, SANE and Mental Health Foundation.
- If you feel you have been the victim of sexism at university, there are a number of other dedicated support services.
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:
- 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.
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.
A lot of people assume that by the time people go to university, they are mature enough to not pick on or bully fellow students. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Student message boards and forums are littered with accounts of students being bullied by fellow students. It can range from deliberate exclusion and name calling to harassment and physical bullying and it can seriously harm an individual’s mental well-being, causing low-self-esteem, anxiety or even depression.
Remember that being bullied is nothing to be ashamed of and you are not alone. There are people at your university who you can talk to, such as your student union's welfare officer, and others who have experienced what you are going through. The NUS have 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.
St Mary's University
Universities have a responsibility to take the mental health of their students seriously. St Mary’s University is doing excellent work in dealing with mental health.
The university’s Wellbeing Service works hard to ensure that each student feels valued. It provides a dedicated mental health advisor for students who have a diagnosed mental health issue or need support from elsewhere. Here are just some of the things they’ve done to help their students:
- Library Wellbeing Zone – A quiet space where students can get away from everyday life. There are also mindfulness drop-in sessions held twice a week for students and staff.
- #itsoktotalk – During Mental Health Awareness Week, the Students’ Union was able to call on two of their illustrious alumni. Sir Mo Farah and Joe Wicks both endorsed the campaign.
- #WellbeingStMarys – Set up by Student Services , this campaign offered free wellbeing support including massages, Chinese yoga and reflexology during exam period.
The efforts have been recognised and praised by the students. One commented, “I simply cannot thank the wellbeing department enough for all their support and involvement within the university.”
The team know that there is still work to be done. The Head of Student Wellbeing, Chris Tuck, said, “we now have our own wellbeing social media account and are creating a library of literature to support staff and students alike. We work closely with the Students’ Union and are also training staff on mental health awareness so they are able to look out for the first signs of mental ill-health in case someone might need our assistance.”
Wrexham Glyndŵr University is another university working hard to ensure the mental wellbeing of all their students. The university has a number of services to help any students with mental health issues. These include:
- Counselling — The counselling service provides a confidential space for individuals to discuss any problems. It provides advice on coping mechanisms and access to other support networks. The service accepts student-self referrals.
- Therapy — The counselling service also offers short-term (six session) face-to-face therapy. The service is staffed by highly qualified and experienced employees who are either registered or accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and who work within its Ethical Framework.
- Inclusion Services Team — The team makes recommendations for reasonable adjustments and also helps with supporting students applying for Disabled Students Allowances.
- Specialist Mentoring — This is available for students where there is a recognised need. This can be for a range of issues such as coping with anxiety and stress situations, dealing with concentration difficulties, time management, prioritising workload and creating a suitable work-life balance.
The university also offers short drop-in appointments for anyone who wants to see if counselling would benefit them.
- 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 experienced 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.