Noel McDermott, Leading Psychotherapist

Student mental health is a ticking time-bomb according to leading psychotherapist Noel McDermott who believes it crucial that we break down the stigma of mental health problems, that we encourage student disclosure to ensure our young people get the support they need:

Amongst the 2.3 million students studying at UK universities there has been a significant rise in all mental health disorders. For some students the transition into higher education can be difficult to handle and for those who develop difficulties during their time at university this can be a very challenging time. With the Summer break coming to an end, now is the time to put student mental health support first.

In the UK we have seen a rise in the number of students continuing with higher and further education. With this rise there has also been an increase in the numbers of students with additional needs through mental illness.

There is still a huge amount of stigma around mental illness and coupled with the lack of insight into the condition that usually comes with being mentally unwell means there is very significant ‘official’ under-reporting by students of their mental health struggles. This is at the UCAS stage and through the admissions process.

Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviours.

Examples of signs and symptoms to look out for include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains. Sudden changes in functioning in any of the areas above should trigger further investigation. 

Earlier this year Universities UK published a report called 'Minding Our Future'*, which revealed that the number of students disclosing a mental health condition to their higher education institution is on the rise; in 2007–08 1,260 post graduates reported problems and by 2017-2018 this had risen to nearly 8,500. As for undergraduates, an est. 8,000 reported mental health issues in 2007-2008 and by 2017–18 this had risen to nearly 50,000.

This issue is still underreported so the actual figures will be much higher. If the evidence suggested by the peer to peer reporting figures are accurate, we could be looking at 75% of the total student body needing some form of mental health support at some point in their university career.

There has been an increase in students presenting with more serious issues around self-harming, eating disorders, bi-polar functioning, borderline personality issues, addiction, but all can be helped with the correct interventions and support from appropriately trained and experienced staff.

Noel McDermott, Leading Psychotherapist

About Noel McDermott A pioneering health and social care professional with over 25 years of industry experience. He is passionate about bringing high quality care and support to those who are vulnerable. Noel’s areas of expertise include social care, mental health, child care, refugees, trauma, addiction and recovery, distance therapy, personal development and emotional health and wellbeing.

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