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.