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New survey reveals sharp rise in uni students experiencing mental health difficulties

New survey reveals sharp rise in uni students experiencing mental health difficulties

  • 81% of students surveyed have been affected by mental health difficulties
  • 27% of students surveyed say they have no friends at university
  • LGBTQ+ students more likely to experience depression and anxiety

A new survey launched by student market research consultancy Cibyl (part of Group GTI), together with Accenture, Clyde & Co, Imperial College London and Universities UK, highlights growing concern for the mental health and wellbeing of students and graduates.

Cibyl’s survey of over 12,261 respondents*, launched in full today at Imperial College London, reveals that 81 per cent of students surveyed have been affected by mental health difficulties, compared with 60 per cent in 2021.

The mental health difficulties reported range from reporting some symptoms of mental ill health to having suicidal thoughts.

For LGBTQ+ students, the picture is particularly concerning, with 91 per cent experiencing mental health challenges.

Loneliness has been identified as a significant and continuing issue, with a shocking 27% of students surveyed saying that they do not have any friends at university. Even when students say they feel supported by their university, a third admit to feeling lonely at least once a week.

Further findings show:

  • Over a third of students (37 per cent) don’t take part in extracurricular activities and these students are less likely to be from privileged backgrounds.
  • 76 per cent of students from high socio-economic backgrounds get involved in extra activities, compared with 57 per cent from low socio-economic or Black backgrounds.

Universities have prioritised sign-posting mental health support services, however despite increased awareness of available services such as counselling services and GP services, these are not considered to be as effective by students as lesser known support services, such as specialist services for eating disorders, and wellbeing sessions.

Students continue to find it difficult to access services within universities and the NHS due to increasing demand and increasingly complex cases.

Specialist services such as those for eating disorders (considered 71 per cent effective) and disability advisory and support services (69 per cent), were rated as being most effective, with counselling services rated as 64 per cent effective.

Access to mental health support is important to people when they are choosing a university and a future employer.  Around half of students (46 per cent) felt that their universities supported students with mental health challenges well and almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of students with supportive university environments said they prioritised mental health provision when choosing a university (compared to 44 per cent of unsupported students). 51 per cent of graduates also said that it was important or very important that their future employer offers ‘robust mental health provision’.

Lisa Marris, Head of Research at Cibyl, said:

“The declining mental health of students and graduates is a deeply concerning and growing problem that needs urgent attention.

“Young people should feel able to disclose mental health difficulties and it’s positive that this seems to be the case.

“Universities and employers can help by creating healthy environments which encourage good wellbeing, a sense of community and connectivity, and prevent ill-health. However students, graduates, and all our young people also need faster access to effective support services.

“Increasing awareness around mental health is not enough for the scale of this crisis. We hope the findings from this research will help support the call for further change and improvement in young people’s mental health support.”

Professor Steve West CBE, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol, said:

“The findings of this year’s annual student mental health survey make for tough reading – our students are reporting increasing difficulties with their mental health, loneliness, inequality and poor access to care – but are not surprising to anyone working in the university sector.

“We know that university support services are witnessing surges in demand. We know that record numbers of children and young adults are being referred to NHS mental health services.

“The key question is how we translate these findings into better outcomes for students. There are no easy fixes. This involves a long-term commitment to change from our sector, strong partnerships with the NHS, embedding well-being along the journey from schools through higher education and into employment. Above all this change must be shaped by students themselves and informed by their experience. That’s why I welcome this report and look forward to launching the 2023 survey.”

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