Gaining a university degree is a major achievement for many people. However, concerns such as living away from family, balancing budgets, managing workloads and securing a degree can be daunting. With students struggling to cope with pressures, we investigate how mental health is affecting students in higher education.
- What is Troubling Students?
- What Do the Statistics Say?
- Whose Higher Education Providers Can Do to Help
What is Troubling Students?
More students than ever are reporting mental health conditions. A Randstad study has revealed 45% of students have considered dropping out of their courses. However, discovering why they were considering this decision and what helped them overcome their issues is key to understanding the deeper problems.
Student fees are higher than ever, but they’re not the only financial costs students need to consider. There's also rent, travel, expenses for job hunting, equipment, books for their studies and more.
With tuition fees at an average of £9,188 and the cost of living outside of London being £12,056 (£15,180 in London), it’s no surprise why finances trouble students in higher education.
Exams, housing, friendships, relationships, money worries, dealing with a new lifestyle - these are all reasons that result in stress. With 78% of students suffering from mental health problems, the obvious place to go for help is the NHS. However, with it being overlooked and underfunded, it falls on universities to offer an easily accessible service.
Choosing a career is a long process which begins long before higher education. The courses selected during further education shape which programme is selected at university and even then some careers can seem out of reach. With some career routes clearly-defined and others not, students need to access the right information.
This includes helpful career services and advice, such as internships, helping with CVs and preparing them for the working world. Having access to this information can potentially ease concerns about how long it will take them to find work or at least put them on the right path to begin searching for careers.
Compared to previous generations, today’s students spend more time studying and are under increased pressure to maintain good grades to excel in their field of study. With the job market more competitive than ever, this constant pressure can make it more difficult to achieve good grades or gain job satisfaction.
Loneliness and Homesickness
Making new friends can be a struggle. New students can especially feel isolated and left out with nobody to turn to. A common cause for depression among university students is missing home, friends and family as they struggle to adjust to the culture shock of campus life. It’s down to universities to promote activities, clubs and services so they feel less isolated.
The other issue here is the effects of unprecedented situations which aren’t always fully-prepared for. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a high number of students remaining on campus, which means they can’t mix with other students.
Sudden changes like these can have a big impact, especially since it can be a major learning curve going from being around many students to suddenly facing strict restrictions and potentially feeling isolated.
What Do the Statistics Say?
Before offering a solution, it’s essential to understand what the problem is. Thankfully, many charities and organisations out there have conducted thorough research over the years to provide an in-depth look at the student mental health problem in universities.
- Since 2014/15, the number of students reporting they have a mental health condition has doubled.
- In 2017, 46% of students considered leaving their course. That figure has since increased to 55% with reasons including mental health-related issues, unable to cope with stress and not enough support from the place of study.
- Waiting times to set up counselling support for some students can be up to three months from diagnosis due to the high demand but lack of resources.
- 71% of students said Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) support helped prevent them from leaving their course. However, only 57% knew how to access it and 55% knew what it would entail. This suggests a major disconnect between university support services and students.
- Only 25% of students surveyed by Randstad received support within a week of requesting it, suggesting universities need skilled people and sessions set up as soon as possible.
- Only 42% of students have accessed counselling support - which raises questions of why more students aren't accessing this support. Perhaps students aren't aware it exists or for some reason, feel as though they can't seek it.
- 64% of students claim their studies and university lifestyle negatively impacts their state of wellbeing.
- Over a quarter of UK students experience their mental wellbeing change for the worse since beginning higher education.
- According to the most recent research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 1,180 students left university in 2014/15 - a 210 increase who quit for the same reasons five years prior.
- 87% of first-year students find it difficult to cope with social or academic aspects of university life. 91% of females found it difficult to cope compared with 82% of male students.
- A total of 143 students aged 18 and over took their own lives in England and Wales, up by 50% compared to 2013.
- In the country’s largest-ever university mental health poll, 87.7% of students said they struggled with anxiety, 42.8% describe themselves as always worried, 33% say they’re always lonely and 4.7% admit to using drugs or alcohol to cope with these feelings.
- According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), one UK higher education student dies by suicide every four days - and the majority are male.
- 75.6% of higher education students conceal their symptoms from friends, making it important for university workers to have skills to spot these and offer assistance.
The statistics show there’s a serious problem. Despite the issues, student mental health has been pushed higher up the government’s agenda. Back in 2018, universities minister Sam Gyimah announced a University Mental Health Charter to support students. It forms the basis of the Charter Award Scheme which is being developed in 2020, with the charter award scheme mentioned previously to follow this year.
Charities like Student Minds are also doing their part with engaging campaigns to transform the state of student mental health.
Even with students more open about mental health, there’s still a long way to go, especially with many students fearing stigma if they speak up. That’s why the onus is on you to ensure your university supports students to offer the help they need and that there’s always another option.
What Higher Education Providers Can Do to Help
A proactive approach is needed at the university and higher education level. This means adopting an institution-wide approach to student mental health. A good start is to effectively support students’ mental health and wellbeing by identifying the students in need of support.
It’s also essential to communicate best practices concerning mental health, provide relevant support services and offer knowledge of the DSA process. By providing support services, you can assist students with any issues they might face and also retain them, making it less likely they’ll drop out of their programme.
For higher education providers, it’s also vital to look at innovative ways to promote student wellbeing as it helps students know they have a place to turn to. Consider fostering partnerships with charities and organise specific mental health events to raise awareness.
Also, implement training sessions for your staff so they can spot signs and know which steps to take. Some other ideas include promoting resources and introducing mindfulness lessons.
In regards to promotion, don’t just highlight the services you currently have at your university. You might be in the process of creating new initiatives to ensure students know who they can turn to, so ensure you highlight external wellbeing resources they can utilise for further guidance.
Taking these steps can help create a better student experience. As it’s your responsibility to focus on student happiness, mental health and wellbeing, there’s also another guide on improving student experience in higher education you can use to help.
Improve Student Experience in Your Institution With Our Guide
In the ‘How to Improve Student Experience in Higher Education’ guide, we’ve spoken to fellow experts who have offered their guidance on the current student experience landscape. We’ve also offered further guidance on student mental health, wellbeing, attainment, retention and more.
To get your copy, click on the link below.