‘1 in 3 students are affected by depression, loneliness’: How should universities address mental health?

'1 in 3 students are affected by depression, loneliness': How should universities address mental health?
Any problems can be shared; asking for help is normal. Source: Shutterstock

Universities in the UK are seeing a rise in students seeking out help for dealing with mental health issues, with the number growing by 50 percent over the past five years, reported the Guardian.

According to a report released recently by UK think tank the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), a majority of university students experience low well-being, and one in three students are affected by depression and loneliness.

In its report, entitled “The invisible problem? Improving students’ mental health”, the organization has called on universities to triple their spending on mental health services in order to adequately meet the increasing demand.

For international students, in particular, the pressure to succeed, cultural clashes, financial constraints, and being far away from friends and family are all contributing factors to deteriorating mental health.

Director of HEPI Nick Hillman said: “Mental disorders are most common in young adults, just at the age when many people become students. Going to university can be stressful, especially for first-in-family students. Typically, you lose your established support networks, move to a new part of the country and take on large debts. Occasionally, it even ends in tragedy.”

He said it was vital for those entering university for the first time to know that support is available to them, that any problems can be shared, and that asking for help is normal.

Hillman cited various channels that students can reach out to, such as university support services, academic tutors, student unions, other students and the National Health Services (NHS).

“But we must do more if we are to meet demand,” he added, making several suggestions, such as having students register with one doctor at home and one doctor at university to ensure continuity of care, having universities adopt mental health Action Plans, providing mental health training for staff, and boosting spending on counselling.

The report’s author, Poppy Brown, a third-year Psychology and Philosophy undergraduate student at the University of Oxford, remarked that although over one in 10 students have been found to have a diagnosable mental illness, support is still difficult to access.

“The scale of the problem is bigger than ever before, yet universities often underfund their counselling services and the NHS does not recognise how vulnerable students are.

“In particular, there is often no consistent care between term-time and holidays. We need to tackle these problems. There is a link between mental health and retention, so there is a financial reason as well as a moral responsibility to address these issues,” she said.

The group has also asked the government to ensure that mental health research receives the funding it needs to ensure that the new Office for Students (OfS) and other relevant bodies have robust data on the prevalence of mental health problems among higher education students.

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