University and Mental Health

University is a strange experience. It is both the best and the worst 3-5 years of your life.

Despite going through university saying phrases like ‘Ugh I hate this’, ‘Why did I even apply to uni?’, ‘Never going to pass this module…’, ‘I didn’t get a word of that!’ and many more, on a daily basis, when I look back at those three years, I can actually say that I did enjoy it! And yes, despite the stressful times, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

University mental health has been a growing topic of conversation in the media over the last couple of years, and rightly so.
64% of the university population is made up of young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 (83% of undergraduates fall into this category). This just so happens to be the age group that is most affected by common mental disorders.

Starting university is a major life transition, especially for those who move away from home. On top of this, students today face a ‘unique’ set of concerns in comparison to students of the past. Some of these concerns include:

  • Financial burden – The high cost of tuition fees and having to pay back student loans.
  • Potential negative consequences of the increased use of social media.

In 2015/2016, 15,000 first-year students, when asked, reported that they have a mental health condition. In 2006 these figures were as 3,000. A huge difference in just 10 years, and it is believed that there are still many students who suffer in silence, therefore these figures may not be accurate. A greater concern is that student suicide has risen by 79% between the years 2007 and 2015.

As a result of mental health, the rates of student dropouts has also increased by a large amount (210% in five years). Does this mean that universities are failing their students? Is the NHS failing young adults? Or is stigma the main blame? – I would love to hear your thoughts about this, so please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or get in touch via social media. 

Most, if not all, universities have some form of mental health services available for their students, it is just a case of accessing such services that are known to be a problem. Due to lack of funds and resources, universities are unable to hire a large number of qualified mental health nurses or psychological counsellers, therefore there is only a handful of trained staff to go around thousands of students which is simply impossible without having large waiting lists.
I earlier mentioned the NHS and their part in this matter. Are they partly to blame for so many students relying on their university services for help? Due to the large waiting lists through the NHS for counselling and the fear of being put onto medication (for some individuals), students turn to their university for help.
On average, universities offer 5-6 weeks of counselling to each student who requests it. Once these 5-6 weeks are over, the student must re-apply before they can have any more sessions. This is so that all students have the opportunity to receive counselling; however many people believe that 5-6 sessions are not enough.

Molly shared her personal experience in regards to University Mental Health with me:

Molly said that her university has offered a lot of support for students in regards to mental health; ‘jumping through hoops’ to ensure that assignments and dissertation writing is the least stressful that it can be. Molly received two major extensions on one of her assignments as her university lecturer was aware of her personal situation. As well as her own lecturers being so supportive of her needs, lecturers who do not teach Molly personally, have also shown their support and understanding. Molly also wanted to state that this is the case for all students within her university, lecturers treat each and every one of them with the same level of respect and support.
Although support from staff is amazing, accessing other services can be difficult. In Molly’s personal experience, there was a 12-week waiting list, despite telling them about having suicidal thoughts. Once the 12 weeks had passed and the counselling session began, Molly said that she did find them helpful and that the Student Union are working hard to shorten the waiting times for students in regards to counselling and other resources.
In relation to assignments and gaining access to extensions, Molly said that obtaining a 10-day extension is pretty easy. However, there is an issue in regards to extenuating/mitigating circumstances. This goes for mental health and also for grievance. When a student needs to ask for extenuating circumstances due to the loss of a loved one; the university requires proof of that person’s death, in the form of the original death certificate (not a photocopy). This can causes added stress to the students and their family at an already stressful time, some students can’t bare asking their family for the death certificate of their loved one and therefore are forced to continue their studies and submit their papers on time; despite going through a tough time at home. This again can be particularly difficult for students who live far away from their family. Molly is hopeful that there will be a reform in regards to this policy in the near future. 

I can personally back-up this statement in regards to having to show proof of a death certificate when asking for extenuating circumstances. I go to a different university to Molly, therefore I am lead to believe this is the current policy across all universities in the UK?
I was in the run-up to the deadline for my dissertation when I lost a loved one suddenly. I fell a little bit behind in my work and went to speak to my mentor about extending the deadline by 5-7 days… I was told I would have to show them my loved one’s death certificate and without it, the only option I would have would be to submit my dissertation in the August instead of the April and as a result of this I would not graduate with my classmates in the summer and that I would have to wait and graduate in Winter… Which to me was not an option as my family were all aware of my graduation date and was looking forward to it and I was scared of letting people down. 

In an American college survey in 2015, the following mental health conditions were reported by students as having a negative effect on their studies:

  • Stress – 30% Students
  • Anxiety – 22% Students
  • Sleep Difficulties – 20% Students
  • Depression – 19% Students

It is so important that everyone, no matter their age, receives the help and support that they need when it comes to their mental health. Early intervention can make such a huge difference and having additional support in areas that can be stressful, such as in the workplace and in the university can also be very helpful.

It is great that universities have counselling services available for students… but is this enough?

Please feel free to leave comments below expressing your thoughts, opinions and expereinces. 

Sources:

Education Policy Institute

MentalHealth.org – The declining state of student mental health

The Guardian – NHS and Universities need to come together to boost student mental health

Suicide Prevention Resource Center- Consequences of student mental health conditions

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