Mental health problems among students on the rise reveals significant new report

The largest mental health survey ever conducted on UK university students reveals an 8% rise year-on-year of those with a serious personal, emotional, behavioural or mental health problem for which they needed professional help. The figure now stands at almost half of the student population (42%).

 

  • Almost half (42%) of students surveyed have had a serious personal, emotional, behavioural or mental health problem for which they needed professional help
  • The significant new report, of 21,027 students this year and over 80,000 students over the last three years shows this has risen 8% year-on-year from 34% when last published
  • Furthermore, 27% of students have had one or more official mental health diagnoses (such as depression or anxiety disorders), up 5% year-on-year
  • 8 in 10 students (78%) with a mental health diagnosis have concealed their symptoms due to stigma
  • The Insight Network and student organisation Dig-In, responsible for the largest mental health survey ever conducted on UK university students, releases its annual data today

The largest mental health survey ever conducted on UK university students releases its annual data today, revealing an 8% rise year-on-year of those with a serious personal, emotional, behavioural or mental health problem for which they needed professional help. The figure now stands at almost half of the student population (42%).

Furthermore, 27% of students have had one or more official mental health diagnoses, a 5% rise year-on-year (from 22%). And 8 in 10 (78%) of those diagnosed have concealed their symptoms due to stigma. The most common mental health diagnoses were depression and anxiety disorders (12% and 11% of the sample, respectively), followed by bipolar disorder (0.5%). Anxiety disorders encompass OCD, general anxiety disorders and phobias.

In addition, 82% of students are aware of the support services offered by their university but worryingly only 13% have accessed them. However, two thirds (63%) of students said that if they had online access to a mental health professional, they would make use of this service raising real questions about the most effective methods of support, and whether services need to adapt digitally with this in mind.

Starting university can be a major transitional period for young people and one in four students experience mental health problems each year. Students may be vulnerable to psychological difficulties due to the interaction of a vast array of university-specific challenges. These stressors include moving away from home for the first time, establishing new networks, developing new identities, new intellectual demands, and financial strains. Therefore, it is pertinent that as a society we support and educate students on how to recognise stress, the early warning of mental health problems and where to seek support. The work Dig-In has done to seek these findings out from the student population is a very important step.

– Dr Stephen Pereira, consultant psychiatrist and Director of the Insight Network

Dr Stephen Pereira concludes: “Mental health problems can cause severe emotional, behavioural and physical health problems. In order for universities and government agencies to provide effective and efficient psychological support it is crucial to understand the scale and psychological makeup of the student mental health challenge in the UK.

There are some causes for concern about student mental health detailed in this report. Mental health issues can be effectively managed if individuals are able to access the right treatment in adequate time. We hope that these findings will serve as both a call to action and a guide for students, their family and friends plus universities, the NHS and government agencies to work together to meet students’ mental health needs.”

How can it be that, for all the progress we’ve made in the last decade, so many young people still feel the need to conceal their mental illness for fear of the reaction from other people? Dig-In's report reminds us that, no matter how readily available you make services, the stigma of mental illness can still present a very real challenge for many.

Young people go to university during a period in which they are particularly at risk of developing mental illness. With the right support networks, many students can learn to manage the effects of mental illness in a positive way that minimises any disruption to their studies. Without that help, illness can develop and become more severe, and have long-lasting effects for the rest of their life. It’s vital that we continue to make every effort to ensure that the right help is available to those that need it.

– Brian Dow, CEO of Mental Health UK

If you’re worried about your mental health or that of someone you know, contact your college or university. They are likely to have support available to you. Many colleges and most universities have a free and confidential in-house counselling service you can access, with professionally qualified counsellors and psychotherapists.

More information about common mental health conditions.

 

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