According to NHS England, mental health problems are as ‘common in UK students as they are in the general population’ but, is university where they are likely to start?
It’s quite common for students venturing out from their home turf to experience a mental health issue, now one in four are expected to experience one. This shocking sharp rise has been reported to be more prevalent in female (34%) and LGBT (45%) students. It seems that most students experiencing a mental health issue are coping with depression and anxiety. These two conditions are the most reported in our students today and its common to have both conditions at the same time.
The stark change in lifestyle that university brings could be an inkling as to why there has been a rise over the past few years. Students are away from their families in unfamiliar surroundings. However, this certainly starts off as a plus side of starting university. Also, to be able to explore a new location and make new friends and study something you are really interested in are great perks. However, it can be stressful when the chosen course becomes very demanding, or you are not quite ‘fitting in’ with the people around you. Students are pressured to get the most out of what the university is offering them. This becomes harder as their courses go on and a well balanced lifestyle seems like a juggling act.
The financial strains of going to university also cannot be ignored. Since the introduction of Tuition fees in 1998, the level of student debt has increased to a point that a student starting university now is expected to graduate with debts of approximately £50,000. A Unite survey revealed that over 40% of students show concern about the repayment of these debts. The report’s authors stress however that this is more likely to be about students’ perception of the debt, rather than the actual repayment as a number will never repay the full amount of their debts due to the income-based method of repayment. University may also be the first time that students have to manage their own finances. A survey conducted by HSBC in 2016 revealed a number of interesting results, including that 19% of students spend their entire loan within the first term and 35% of students feel overwhelmed by managing their own finances.
Unfortunately students moving on to postgraduate studies may be more likely to experience mental health issues. A study looking at PhD students in Belgium showed that worryingly, PhD students are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression or a psychiatric disorder than other highly educated people in the general population. Another looking at both Masters and PhD students in over 26 countries revealed that rates of depression were around six times higher than that seen in the general public. Postgraduate student life can be very different to that of an undergraduate, with PhD students for example spending years researching into a very specific area, with some even receiving bursaries rather than loans to fund this work.
Despite these differences however, mental health issues still occur in each student group and many questions are raised from this fact. For instance, would students who experience mental health issues also experience them if they didn’t go to university? Would abolishing tuition fees lower the rate of mental health issues seen in students? What is it about postgraduate student life that results in a higher likelihood of having a mental health issue? We do not know the answers yet and it’s clear further research is required to help us fully understand this highly complex issue.
Regardless of if you are an undergraduate or postgraduate, if you are experiencing mental health issues at university there is much support available to you. Your student union will have information about support specific to your university. Nationwide support is also provided from organisations like Student Minds, YoungMinds and Students Against Depression to name but a few. The Samaritans also offer a 24/7 helpline that can be called from any phone in the UK for free on 116 123.
Did you experience a mental health issue whilst at university? Are you at university now and experiencing issues? Do you think the introduction of tuition fees has made life worse for students? Please leave a comment below, we would love to know what you think.