Mental health

Student mental health issues raised

“Doctors are warning that the current generation of students has a greater risk of anxiety and depression than previous ones,” reported the BBC. The news report is based on an update of a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which has examined the mental health of students in higher education. According to the report, the student population and demands on students have changed, and therefore there is a greater need for counselling and mental health support.

The authors have made several recommendations for the provision of aid and support for students with mental health difficulties, some of which are listed below.

Most universities and colleges have counselling services staffed by qualified professionals, who offer confidential one-to-one counselling. You can find details of university counselling services on the student counselling website.

For more advice on mental health support for students, visit the Live Well page on student mental health.

Why was the report carried out?

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has published an update of its 2003 report on the ‘Mental Health of Students in Higher Education’. The report stated that an update was required because there have been profound social changes and changes in the student population during the past decade. These changes include an increase in the number of students who now come from more socially and culturally diverse backgrounds.

In addition, there have been changes in financial support from the government, and an increase in family breakdown with students sometimes receiving less financial support from their families or reduced emotional support if the relationship with a parent has been affected.

The report describes the current legislation, provision of counselling and initiatives at higher educational institutions; and the pressures now placed on students. It also discussed some of the mental disorders present in the student population and estimated their prevalence. Lastly, it considered the different ways that students have access to psychiatric care. The report said that in 2002 the Disability and Discrimination Act was extended to include education, and therefore education providers now have a legal responsibility to students with disabilities, which it said includes those with mental illness.

Why concentrate on students?

The report stated that the student population is in some ways more vulnerable than other young people are. Approximately 4% of university students are seen by counsellors each year. First-year students have to become independent, and adapt to a different type of education, often living away from home for the first time. This can be combined with financial and peer pressures. These effects are often amplified in certain groups. For example, overseas students may also have to adapt to a new culture and language.

In addition to these pressures, the authors said that the peak age of onset of some mental disorders, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, is between 18 and 25.

What recommendations do the authors make?

The authors recommended that policies are put in place to make sure students experiencing mental health difficulties for the first time at university are seen for an initial assessment quickly. They also recommended that waiting lists and therapies are managed so that appointments are made when the student can attend. This can be done, for example, by making sure that appointments do not conflict with examinations, and should take into account term and vacation dates.

If students with existing mental health conditions are going to university, arrangements need to be made to ensure continuity of care. Vulnerable groups of students, for example, international students, need particular attention.

The authors also recommended that a coordinated working relationship be formed between higher education institutions and NHS psychiatric services, and that a national professional group for psychiatrists who work with students be formed. Higher education institutions should maintain or expand their student support services and have a formal mental health policy.

The report also pointed out that due to the way GP practices are funded, practices that work with student populations are often paid less, which could threaten the viability of these services. The authors recommended that the Healthy Universities approach, which provides a whole university approach to promoting health, should be adopted as widely as possible.

Finally, the authors reported on the need for more research into the nature and prevalence of mental disorders in the UK student population.

Where can I get advice?

For more advice on mental health support for students, visit the Live Well page on student mental health.

Most universities and colleges have counselling services staffed by qualified professionals, who offer confidential one-to-one counselling. You can find details of university counselling services on the student counselling website.

NHS Attribution