Universities must address high rates of mental health issues amongst students
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The number of students with mental health issues has been growing at an alarming rate over recent years.
In 2015, the Higher Education Funding Council for England found that between the academic years 2008-9 and 2013-14, the number of students in England with a declared mental health problem increased by 132%.
Last year, a YouGov survey showed that 27% of Britain’s students reported having a mental health problem.
This figure is noticeably similar to the national average of people with mental health issues as it is reported that around 1 in 4 people will have a mental health issue in the UK each year. However, a recent study by Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) found that only 37% of students with mental health issues have declared it, or intend to.
As the number of students struggling with their mental health seems to be much higher than is recorded and reported, it is clear that it is a widespread issue that must be addressed.
As a student, I found the pressures of university increasingly difficult to manage. Particularly in the last six months of my degree, I became overwhelmed with debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. From first-hand experience, I believe that there are major issues with the ways in which the emotional and mental well-being of students is generally discussed and understood.
Even as my anxiety began to interfere with my ability to work effectively, I was frequently told by others that my feelings were common for students in my position; whilst statistics show that mental health issues are indeed increasingly common amongst students, this is neither assuring nor acceptable.
British universities generally seem preoccupied with reputations, rankings and results. Amongst competitive league tables and numerical databases of life-changing grades, the mental health of students can get severely overlooked.
The combined pressures of relentless workloads, overlapping deadlines and intensely high expectations at university can lead even the most academically capable students to burn out. With tuition fees at staggeringly high rates, the prospect of post-graduate debt stamps a dizzying price on the already intense pressures to succeed at university.
Between the academic years 2011-12 and 2014-15, there was a 28% increase in the number of students at Russell Group universities seeking counselling. The mental health charity Mind has related this statistic to the increase in tuition fees to £9,000 in 2012.
Tuition fees in British universities are set to rise further, going up to £9,250 in the next academic year. As universities have been given permission to increase tuition fees every year, the suggested link between rising tuition fees and mental health problems amongst students should be recognised to prevent further harm.
Studying at university is an academically and emotionally challenging experience, but the high levels of mental health issues amongst students cannot be dismissed. The high cost of tuition fees is one of many pressures faced by students. It is vital that we do not overlook the extent of mental health issues at university, or ignore the growing pressure of debt on students which makes the difficulties of degrees yet more testing.
With terrifying prospects of debt and intensely high academic pressures, students are placed under overwhelming expectations that seem to be contributing to crises of mental health; the mental health of students needs to be addressed and recognised as a worrying, growing issue, and changes must be made.