Mental health absences ‘widespread’ among university starters

Nearly one in three UK university applicants had mental health-related school absences, survey finds

七月 7, 2023
Mental health
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Almost one in three UK university applicants this year will have taken time off school because of their mental health, a survey of incoming students suggests.

Drawing on a poll of 2,141 applicants hoping to start university this autumn, the Unite Students Applicant Index found that 30 per cent of respondents had taken some time off in the past two years on account of their mental well-being, with about one in 14 missing at least 20 days of school owing to mental health difficulties.

That would mean about 154,000 university starters this year would have been absent for mental health reasons if the results were replicated nationally, while 37,000 would have missed more than 20 days, says the report by the student housing provider released on 7 July.

Female applicants are even more likely to have missed school for such reasons – with 35 per cent of respondents stating that they had taken time off, compared with 30 per cent of all applicants. This figure rose to 45 per cent for gay and lesbian applicants.

About 19 per cent also said they had a mental health condition, with a further 8 per cent saying they were on the autism spectrum.

Meanwhile, about a quarter (24 per cent) of all applicants said they felt lonely all or most of the time.

The results are likely to open debate about how universities support a new cohort of students who have faced major disruption to their education during the pandemic. Institutions are already facing calls for the introduction of a legal duty of care in response to dozens of student suicides over the past few years.

In a foreword to the report, Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, says the “present generation of school and college learners have faced unprecedented challenges”.

“The mental health of young people had taken a big knock even before the shock of the pandemic and it worsened during the crisis – these mental health absence figures are an eye-opener in terms of how many vital lessons a significant number of students may have missed and the support they may need at university,” says Mr Hillman.

The report helps to provide a “stocktake of the views of those on their way to higher education” that could inform support available to first-year undergraduates, he continues. “Knowing what applicants think about higher education before they arrive in higher education is incredibly useful.”



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