One in 8 undergraduates says they have mental health condition

Those reporting mental health issues are markedly more likely to consider quitting, survey finds

September 2, 2016
Social psychology

Around one in eight undergraduates at UK universities believes they have a mental health condition, according to a major survey that reveals that these students are significantly more likely to consider dropping out of their course.

A representative survey of 6,504 undergraduates, conducted by YouthSight and YouGov on behalf of accommodation provider Unite Students, found that 12 per cent of respondents believed they had a mental health condition.

Of the students who said they had a condition, around four out of five reported that they had anxiety (82 per cent) or depression (79 per cent).

The survey found that students who said that they had a mental health condition were significantly more likely to consider dropping out, with nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of them having done so, compared with 35 per cent of undergraduates without such a condition.

They also gave significantly lower average scores in a range of areas covering different aspects of the student experience, such as satisfaction with their social life, financial planning and employability.

The survey suggests that mental health conditions could be more prevalent among students than previously thought. The latest official data show that in 2012-13, 1.4 per cent of all students at English higher education institutions told staff that they had a mental health condition.

The results also underline the scale of the challenge facing university counselling teams at a time when their budgets are under significant pressure.

A survey conducted earlier this year by AMOSSHE, which represents student services leaders, found that four out of five UK universities had observed a “noticeable increase” in serious mental health problems among students over the past 12 months.

And the latest data from the country’s Office for National Statistics show that the number of suicides involving students aged over 18 hit a record high in 2015, with 134 such incidents reported, up from 100 just two years previously.

However, the Unite Students survey suggests that undergraduates may be arriving at university with their mental health conditions, since the reported prevalence of such conditions was in effect identical in a parallel survey of 2,169 applicants.

Jenny Shaw, the company’s head of higher education engagement and student services, said universities should consider whether they are making “sufficient reasonable adjustments” for students with mental health conditions.

“There is a lot of data in this report which shows more could be done,” she said. “It is for the sector to say ‘are we happy’ with the level of difference in the experience of different students; this shows some areas institutions might want to look at.”

The survey also indicated that students from poorer backgrounds typically had a worse university experience. Only 66 per cent of undergraduates from poorer families said that they were satisfied with their life, compared with 77 per cent of learners from the wealthiest backgrounds.

Undergraduates from the poorest families were significantly more likely to feel stressed about and unsuccessful at managing money, and they were significantly less likely to feel well prepared for employment.

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Reader's comments (1)

Interesting the apparent difference involving the families financial situation. Being in the front line of dealing distressed students, I'm a First Aider and we get called to deal with students having 'issues' in the 'workplace', I wonder if the drive to make more money and using academics time for more and more teaching (bums on seats = paying customers) and less time for individual pastoral care is also a factor. Certainly some academics are bullies when lecturing, how they'll get through the TEF will be interesting, having had one this week cause a problem to a student working through the summer break I have little time for such self aggrandising and overbearing individuals, but then being a female scholar with UCU support every time someone complains about them must mean they are virtually untouchable, to themselves at least. It's time the Universities actually monitored their academic lecturers, and if their pedagogy practice doesn't come up to scratch do something about it. I know technicians with more teaching ability, with and without formal teaching qualifications, than some academic lecturers.