Four in five UK students ‘affected by mental health issues’

Survey of more than 12,000 students and recent graduates finds a quarter say they do not have any friends at university

October 14, 2022
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More than four-fifths of UK students have been affected by mental health difficulties, a survey suggests.

The annual study reveals a significant rise in mental health problems – ranging from symptoms of mental ill health to having suicidal thoughts – with LGBTQ+ students even more likely to be affected.

Student market research consultancy Cibyl asked more than 12,000 students and recent graduates if they had experienced mental health symptoms, mental health difficulties or suicidal feelings in the past 12 months.

The answers, which were recorded between November 2021 and February this year, showed that 81 per cent had been directly touched by mental health issues – up from 60 per cent the year before.

These feelings were more prevalent among undergraduates than those pursuing other degrees, and even higher among LGBTQ+ students – with 91 per cent experiencing mental health challenges.

The Cibyl report – published together with Accenture, Clyde & Co, Imperial College London and Universities UK – identifies loneliness as a major issue, with a quarter of students saying they do not have any friends at university.

Even when students say they feel supported by their university, a third admitted to feeling lonely at least once a week.

Further findings from the survey across almost 150 universities showed that more than a third of students do not take part in extracurricular activities, with those from less-privileged backgrounds even less likely to.

“The declining mental health of students and graduates is a deeply concerning and growing problem that needs urgent attention,” said Lisa Marris, head of research at Cibyl.

“Universities and employers can help by creating healthy environments, which encourage good well-being, a sense of community and connectivity, and prevent ill health.

“However, students, graduates and all our young people also need faster access to effective support services.”

Three-quarters of students said the coronavirus pandemic had affected their mental health negatively.

The survey took place before war broke out in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis erupted, and the report warns that these issues might impact the results next year.

Steve West, UUK’s president and vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England, said the findings made for “tough reading” but were not surprising to anyone working in the sector.

“We know that university support services are witnessing surges in demand,” he said.

“We know that record numbers of children and young adults are being referred to NHS mental health services.”

He said there were no “easy fixes”, but the solution must involve a long-term commitment to change from the sector, strong partnerships with the NHS, and embedding well-being along the journey from schools onwards.

The results did show that two-thirds of students and graduates had a positive outlook on their future careers, and the majority of them were aware of university mental health support available.

But the report said that awareness did not equal effectiveness, with counselling services, GP services and mental health advisers all rated less effective than lesser-known options, such as eating disorder support.

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