Almost half of young people in the UK now go to university, and it’s a time that should bring the chance not only to learn but also to build life-long friendships, enjoy new experiences, and develop more independence. But according to our new study, based on a survey of more than 12,000 students, mental health challenges are playing an increasing role in the student experience.
The pandemic has played a significant role in students’ mental wellbeing (we conducted our study during 2020). However, this trend preceded Covid-19—and it is not likely to recede as the pandemic comes under control. In fact, even in a year when Covid-19 was never out of the news, students were more likely to be worrying about not doing well enough (73% frequently worried about this), exam and course deadlines (68%) and the pressure of studying for long hours (65%) than about theirs or others’ health (47%). Burnout was the third most common mental health condition that students reported.
Universities are well aware of the need to provide mental health support, and virtually all of them do. In fact, during the pandemic, many expanded the range and reach of their offerings. A consortium of organisations, funded by the Office for Students (the independent regulator of higher education in England), also piloted the University Mental Health Charter Award, a voluntary accreditation programme designed to help universities improve their student mental health supports. By and large, we also found that most students are aware, at least generically, that certain supports exist. Yet, as our survey participants revealed:
- awareness of services doesn’t necessarily lead to a student knowing how to access what they need (or doing so);
- the services most commonly used are not necessarily the most effective ones; and
- half of the students in our survey said they did not feel that their mental health was well supported overall at university.