Students ‘afraid’ to use university mental health services

Nearly one in five first-year UK undergraduates tell Unite Students survey that they have a mental health condition

September 17, 2019
Source: iStock

Nearly one in five first-year students at UK universities consider that they have a mental health condition, but many are not accessing support on campus because of issues around confidence, fear or trust, a survey suggests.

The survey of 2,573 first-years, conducted by Unite Students, found that 17 per cent of respondents reported suffering from anxiety, depression or another mental health condition – up from 12 per cent in 2016.

Of those who said they had a mental health condition, nearly half (46 per cent) said there was a stigma to it. And worryingly, only 23 per cent said they trusted their university to provide them with the right level of support.

Across all student respondents, 23 per cent had used a university well-being, support or mental health service, and the quality of the service provided was generally felt to be high.

However, more than a quarter of respondents (26 per cent) said they had not used support services because they were too anxious or afraid, did not feel comfortable about the university’s being aware of their condition, did not feel that the service could help them – or did not think the service was for “people like me”.

Jenny Shaw, student experience director at Unite, said the results of the survey – conducted in partnership with the Higher Education Policy Institute – suggested that there were real issues with student engagement with university services.

“At a national level, it’s important that policy positions on disclosure and data sharing take the student position into account. At a local level, it’s about building trust with the university through the messages it puts out, so universities engage students and ensure that they are comfortable to disclose,” she said.

Students needed clarity about how disclosure of a mental health condition would be received and reassurance that the service was for someone like them, she said. “Of course, the other side of that is if more students are using the services, then it has to be funded,” Ms Shaw added.

The survey showed that protecting students’ well-being was not just about those with a mental health condition, as the data showed that one in four students said they felt lonely “all the time” or “often”.

University policies that encouraged students to make social connections had “the potential to be very important for the well-being of the whole student body and [are] very doable”, Ms Shaw said.

For example, the data showed that freshers’ week activities were appreciated by some students but not so much by others, such as ethnic minorities, introverts and LGBT students, so they should be designed to be more inclusive, she said.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Having witnessed the isolation of male students in mixed hall flats, where the females ganged up on lone males, there’s a lot more loneliness and even deliberate ostracisation (bullying) going on that the Universities wilfully ignore. That most students know no one isn’t unusual, but with the ever decreasing level of social skills due to living in an on-line world, being over protected by bull-dozer parents and fed unending doom by the mainstream media are all factors in young peoples ability to cope with new and previously unknown experiences. With limited contact time most supervising academics often don’t pick up on any warning signs, admin even less, though they might write the procedures and guidance most have no direct contact with students, often it’s the technicians who pick-up the warning signs and having the contact time assist students the most during the working day, night time is the time of greatest risk… https://www.technicians.org.uk/assets/technician-commitment/pdfs/report-technicians-student-well-being.pdf

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