Four in five students experienced mental health issues in the past year, with a third saying they had had suicidal thoughts, a survey has revealed.
Of the respondents who did not identify as heterosexual, more than half (55%) said they had contemplated suicide. The research, which questioned 1,093 students in further and higher education, was carried out by the National Union of Students (NUS), on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on students.
A third of respondents said they did not know where to seek help for mental health if they needed it, while 54% who needed mental health support did not seek it. A further 40% said they would be "nervous" about the extent of the support they would receive from their university if they sought it.
One student said they had told their tutor they were having a "meltdown", to which the tutor replied: "Architecture is hard." Another said: "Sufficient support was [not] on offer from the university. [There were] only a very limited number of sessions offered by the university, which just stirred up negative feelings and left me feeling worse and less understood."
Maddy Kirkman, disabled students’ officer for the NUS, said: “These findings are deeply concerning, and reaffirm the stark challenges that persist around providing effective support to students in universities and colleges.
“Alongside the impact of funding cuts to student support, including maintenance grants and the disabled students’ allowance, this shows a worrying lack of concern for students living with mental health issues.”
A fifth of the respondents were aged 17 and 18, with 19 and 20 year olds making up 34%. Nearly nine in 10 of the students questioned said they had felt stressed in the last year, 80% said they felt unhappy or down, with nearly half saying they had felt panic. Another 62% said they had had feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, with 77% having experienced anxiety.
Ed Pinkney, now a consultant for the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at Hong Kong University , said: "There is often a 'macho' culture on campuses, particularly for those young men involved in sports societies. This can bring pressure to conform and to conceal difficulties."
Bristol student Stefan Rollnick added: " Problems with self-esteem have played a big part in my university experience. As a guy who has a reputation among friends for being someone who 'sleeps around' (something which I get a disproportionate amount of credit for compared to like-minded girls), it has been very difficult for me to be open about struggles with my self-esteem."
Charlie Evans, a 22-year-old final year student at Exeter said he took himself to A&E on "numerous" occasions after suffering anxiety attacks.
"It was a deeply isolating experience. And because of the stereotypes mentioned above, I kept it in and had no support network beyond my therapist and parents.
"I had moments of loneliness throughout the first year and felt like I had no one to talk about my feelings, whereas back home with friends I could. New friends, new environment, etc. I started then developing really strange obsessional thoughts- started off with thinking that my family wouldn't be alive by the time I went home next, and then manifested an obsession with my health."
Paul Blomfield MP, chair of the APPG, said: “Our colleges and universities should be places of educational and personal development, where students feel supported. But these findings show us that significant numbers of students are suffering with mental health problems, many of them silently.
“These survey results are a wake-up call to all of us concerned with student welfare. MPs and peers from across the political spectrum will come together this afternoon to discuss what can be done.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41