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Addressing the issue of student mental health…an international issue.

  • Mental Health
Mike Hodgkiss
Mike Hodgkiss 15 February, 2018

Addressing the issue of student mental health

It’s increasingly hitting the headlines, and for good reason too. Mental health, particularly amongst students, is an increasing cause for concern. While funds have increased for university mental health services, this is widely still not considered enough. Despite the best efforts of universities nationwide, university healthcare systems have become inundated with problems encountered due to mental health, thus they are not always a reliable or quick source of external help. With more students coming forward to say that they are struggling with issues such as depression and anxiety, it is increasingly apparent that students should employ as much effort as possible to help themselves.

An awareness of mental health is fundamental when entering life as a university student.

Young people face serious threats to their safety and well-being. Crime data shows that 16 to 24-year-olds are more likely to be victims of violent crime than any other age group. In a recent YouGov poll, 63% of women and 26% of men aged 18 to 24 said they had been sexually harassed on a night out. What’s more, suicide is now the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29 – and suicide rates among women in their early 20s are at a 20-year high.

The vast majority (96%) of 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK now own a smart phone. While social media use is linked to depression and anxiety in young people, and self-harm in teenage girls, some mobile apps have been developed to provide crucial back-up to traditional support services.

Many young people are also university students: approximately one in three 18-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and one in four in Scotland – were placed on degree programmes in 2017. University presents further challenges to personal safety and well-being. More than half (54%) of students aged 18 to 24 report having experienced sexual harassment. There have also been accounts of universities failing to support those who report their experiences.

Students are also twice as likely to be mugged than the general population. This suggests that universities need to improve safety advice and support for students – especially since many of them leave their hometowns for an unfamiliar city when they begin their studies.

What’s more, up to 70% of students experience homesickness and, on top of that, high tuition fees and living costs contribute to mental health problems. Universities have seen a 50% rise in students seeking counselling in the past five years, placing these services under pressure. Given that 75% of mental health problems emerge before the age of 25, there’s a clear need for early intervention and preventative solutions.


To meet the growing demand for support services, universities across the UK are being encouraged to sign up to ProtectED – a national accreditation scheme, developed at the University of Salford. The code of practice sets out standards to ensure that universities provide students with enough support to ensure their safety, security and well-being.

Accredited universities must promote – and ideally provide – free personal safety apps for students. For instance, Northumbria Universityuse SafeZone – an app which allows students to request emergency assistance or first aid from university security around the clock. For this to be effective, universities need trained support staff in place to respond to students.

Mindfulness training helps build resilience in university students and improve their mental health, particularly during stressful summer exams, according to research from the University of Cambridge.

The study, which involved just over 600 Cambridge students, concluded that the introduction of eight-week mindfulness courses in UK universities could help prevent mental illness and boost students’ wellbeing at a time of growing concern about mental health in the higher education sector.

University mental health services have experienced a huge surge in demand, with the number of students accessing counselling rising by 50% between 2010 and 2015, exceeding growth in student numbers during the same period.

According to the study, published in the journal The Lancet Public Health, the prevalence of mental illness among first-year undergraduates is lower than among the general population, but it exceeds levels in the general population during the second year of university.

Responding to the children and young people’s mental health green paper, Professor Steve West, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West of England (Bristol) and Chair of the Mental Health In Higher Education (MHHE) working group, commented:​

“Mental health matters to universities. Universities want our students and staff to thrive and succeed and, where they experience mental health difficulties, to feel able to ask for help and to receive it. This challenge is difficult to answer alone. Universities must work in close partnership with the NHS and with parents, schools, colleges and employers.”