Starting university can be a daunting with concerns like living away from family, balancing a tight budget and balance workload and, worst of all, needing to cook for yourself.
It is not surprising then that students are struggling to cope with pressures and a recent study found the number of students quitting university due to poor mental health more than trebled in five years.
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, a staggering 1,180 students left university in 2014-15 (the most recent data available) due to mental health concerns, a 210% increase on the 380 who quit for the same reasons in 2009-10.
Student accommodation provider UPP’s recent student experience survey supports these statistics, showing that 87% of first year students find it difficult to cope with social or academic aspects of university life, with female students finding it particularly difficult to cope – 91% reported to have struggled with one or more of the above issues, compared with 82% of male students.
Student mental health: is enough being done?
Students have reported that due to the increasing financial pressures of going to university, they feel more pressured to achieve highly.
Also, university tutors have stated that more and more students undertake a part time job to help support themselves, leading to a ‘perfect storm’ as deadlines, work commitments and social pressures pile up (Dr Aleksej Heinze, senior lecturer at the University of Salford Business School).
Added to this, a contributor to the above statistics could be the fact that the stigma around mental health issues is starting to be significantly reduced – more students are declaring mental health difficulties to university staff prior to starting, and more organisations, both student and staff led, are being set up to provide support to students as university starts.
What can we do to help?
A total of 143 students aged 18 and over took their own lives in England and Wales last year. This number is nearly 50% more than the 97 who took their lives in 2013.
It is clear that students need to be supported throughout their whole time at university so that they can receive the help they need to know that there is always another option.
Mental health 'not a barrier to academic success'.
Mark Amnes, the director of student services at the University of Bristol, said having a mental health difficulty 'isn’t a barrier to becoming academically successful’.
As student support workers, you are perfectly placed to help recognise any signs of mental health difficulties in your students, and so offer excellent support.
The organisation Mental Health First Aid England has launched a training course, currently running in 16 universities across the country for anyone who works or studies in a university environment.
The course is designed to help students and staff to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health issues, and so could help you support your students more effectively – is it in place at the university you support?
If you want to help prevent students from falling through the cracks, watch out for signs of decreased attendance to lectures and seminars, a reluctance to get involved in university activities or socialise with friends, and problems meeting deadlines, to name a few. If you spot these things early, you could make a real difference in a student’s life.
Think you could provide top class support to students struggling with their mental health? Let us help you find the perfect role.