British universities are experiencing a surge in student anxiety, mental breakdowns and depression. In 2015/16, over 15,000 first-year students in UK universities reported they had a mental health problem1.
Worrying statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency revealed that, as of July 2017, the rate of suicide for university students in England and Wales was around five deaths per 100,000. This equates to 95 suicides every year and around one death every four days.
Tracey Paxton, managing director responsible for BHSF RISE and related services, has previously delivered mental health first aid training and resilience workshops at universities. She spoke of her concern on the statistics.
“It is worrying that the number of university students with mental health issues is on the rise and not only that, the number of suicides is a real concern. The statistics highlight that students with mental health problems need help and someone they can talk to. Universities are key in supporting and raising awareness of mental health.
“Mental illness or mental health difficulties can beset students at any point in their academic career. The underlying causes vary from person to person and are certainly not all directly related to their higher education experiences.
“However particular aspects of the higher education experience and environment can cause stress for some students. Transition points in life can be particularly challenging: at the start of their courses many students are likely to be adapting to significant changes in their lifestyle at a time when they are themselves adjusting to study.”
Most universities will have a free and confidential in-house counselling service students can access, with professionally qualified counsellors and psychotherapists. However Paxton believes universities need to do more than just offer counselling.
“Universities have an important role to play in providing support for students with mental health difficulties. Universities must also demonstrate how they can play a positive role in the community and wider society in destigmatising mental health difficulties and provide support to students with mental health challenges.
“Consideration should be given to making training on mental health awareness and the protocols for reporting concerns available to all relevant staff.
“To promote student mental wellbeing across the institution, guidance should be circulated widely and to internal task groups with student representation. Institutions should consult and collaborate with students’ unions and associations, as well as students with mental health difficulties, when implementing student mental health-related policies. By doing this, it is an opportunity to identify areas for improvement.”
Paxton also believes students can benefit from being in higher education which can help with their mental health.
“Engaging in higher education can make a positive contribution to mental wellbeing in that it provides opportunities for academic and personal achievement leading to a fuller sense of identity and increased self-esteem. It can also reduce isolation and provide opportunities for new friendships.”