UK student mental health crisis ‘may be worse than thought’

Study highlights significant under-reporting of anxiety and stress, with male and ethnic minority learners among least likely to seek help

五月 9, 2022
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The state of student mental health in the UK may be significantly worse than previously thought, according to research which indicates that well-being issues are significantly under-reported.

Research by the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes (Taso) and the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) found the impact of Covid increased levels of anxiety, stress and loneliness, particularly among students who already faced disadvantages because of their background.

But many are reluctant to seek support, the study found. Students from a black and minority ethnic background, men, mature students and refugees and asylum seekers were among the least likely groups to report a mental health condition owing to stigma, cultural barriers and fear of losing opportunities.

“The evidence suggests that the growth in student mental health issues could be much worse than we thought, and that these issues are potentially widening the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students,” said Sarah Chappell, research lead on the project at Taso.

In response, 79 per cent of institutions surveyed for the report said they had put additional support in place to help students and two-thirds said they had introduced more targeted support for at least one at-risk group – for example, designated helplines or employing a member of staff to work with particular groups.

While some interventions, particularly those involving peer-led support such as buddy schemes, were found to be effective, other institutions reported low take-up and engagement. One participant, from a Russell Group university, said there was a disconnect between the support students said they wanted and what they actually used.

Others said some students were not interested in targeted support as they felt singled out due to their identity or background and were more likely to engage with broader schemes.

While funding was an issue for all institutions who participated in the research, smaller higher education providers in particular reported a lack of resources and also feeling shut out of sector-wide initiatives.

A lack of training for academic staff in how to provide mental health support was also identified as a key challenge as well as a disconnect between institutions and NHS services, which led to students being discharged from urgent care services without university staff being made aware.

Evaluation was identified as another key challenge, with staff lacking the skills or resources to carry out large-scale studies on the effectiveness of particular programmes. This meant they struggled to prove whether an intervention could be linked to long-term outcomes, such as the student staying on their course or achieving better grades.

Ms Chappell said there were “still gaps in the evidence base for what works to tackle mental health inequalities in the sector”.

“More effective evaluation is needed and a more evidence-based approach to planning interventions. We are lacking in evidence that demonstrates the long-term impact of student mental health support, particularly on HE-related outcomes, and want to support the sector in the evaluation of initiatives,” she added.



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