Most Students Want Universities To Contact Their Parents In A Mental Health Emergency

It is the first time students have been surveyed on the issue.

Two thirds of university students would want their mental health problems shared with parents or guardians in extreme circumstances, a survey has found.

The Student Academic Experience Survey 2019 asked 14,000 undergraduate students if they would be happy for their university to get in touch under extreme circumstances (66%) or under any circumstances (15%).

But 18% of students were not happy for their parents to be contacted at all.

It is the first time the survey has asked students about disclosing mental health to their parents, following a year which saw at least 95 students die by suicide and the number of students accessing mental health support increase by 76%.

Bristol University came under particular scrutiny after 11 student suicides in 2016 and it was investigated for its care of vulnerable students.

The new survey found students are significantly more anxious than other young people: the proportion with low anxiety has fallen for the third year in a row from 21% to 16% between 2016 and 2019.

This is less than half the national rate of low anxiety for 20 to 24-year-olds of 37%, according to Office for National Statistics figures for 2017-18.

Only one in 10 lesbian, gay and bisexual students reported having low anxiety in 2019 compared with 17% of non-LGB students, the survey said.

“Student wellbeing remains a huge concern,” says Advance Higher Education chief executive Alison Johns said. “If a green light were needed for changes to allow universities to contact parents and guardians where an individual may have mental health problems, we have a very strong signal here in support of that change.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), told PA that giving students a named person to get in contact with if they were in trouble created a clear process for help.

He said: “Just because you are 18 doesn’t mean you are competent to look after all your own needs yourself and sometimes asking for help is difficult.”

The survey also asked students about their overall experience: nearly two thirds said they would choose the same course and university if applying again.

Among students who said their experience surpassed their prior expectations, 59% highlighted the “right level of challenge” as the key factor.

Where students reported a worse experience than expected, around a third blamed themselves for not putting in enough effort. This figure rose to 42% among black and minority ethnic students.

The survey also found that the proportion of students feeling they were getting value for money from their course had risen to its highest level since 2014: 41% said their course had “good” or “very good” value for money, compared with 38% last year. This is the highest level since the 44% reported in 2014.

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • 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.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email:
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on