The number of students informing their university of existing mental health issues before term begins has increased by more than 70% in the last four years

Figures obtained by The Times show a 73% rise between 2014-15 and 2017-18 in freshers stating that they had a condition such as anxiety or depression before starting their course.

The figures were based on ‘freedom of information’ responses from 60 universities. Only those students who disclosed a mental health condition and no other disability were included in many of the universities’ data, due to the way some institutions record the information.

In 2014-15, 7,375 students declared arriving to university in poor mental health. While figures show an increase each year since then, the 2017-18 academic year saw a total of 12,773.

“I feel so alone...”

Becky shares her experience of university on Counselling Directory.

“I can’t remember how many times those words crossed my mind whilst at university. More times than I have fingers, that is for sure.

“I was living in an exciting, new city. I was studying a subject I was passionate about with like-minded people. I was enjoying nights out with new-found friends. They’re just a few things that are sold to us as part and parcel of the ‘university experience.’ And, whilst that’s certainly true of my own experience, it wasn’t always plain sailing.

“I retreated into myself, as I always had done when times got a bit tough. I’ve learnt to handle things much better since then.”

Mental health awareness

Greater awareness of mental health has put pressure on the higher education sector to provide better support for students. Not only are we more aware of mental health and the impact it can have on peoples’ lives, we also know that with the right support, it is possible to recover or manage our difficulties. Expectations are higher now than ever before, and universities, schools and workplaces are expected to provide sufficient support to those under their care.

Some universities have introduced specific policies to ease vulnerable students into university living, such as ‘transition days.’

At Worcester University, wellbeing advisers will contact new students to arrange a meeting prior to the start of term. Oxford University offers a day for students to learn about the support services available, and how to manage the transition. Students are given the option to settle into accommodation early, before the halls become busy.

At the end of 2018, The Times revealed that universities had been spending millions more on mental health services. However, many institutions said that despite doubling their budgets, they can “no longer cope alone.”

John de Pury, Assistant Director of Policy at Universities UK, said that more children and young adults had poor mental health and that the organisation viewed this as a priority. It recommends a “whole university approach” that included “helping students with diagnosed mental disorders to continue to access the right treatment and support… so they can maximise their potential and hopefully move towards recovery or managed illness.”

Explaining that Universities UK was working with NHS England, he added “we cannot do this on our own.”

What help is available for students experiencing difficulties at university?

Talking to someone about your mental health can be scary. But what should you do if you talk to someone about the issues you’re having and they don’t understand?

For more support, visit Student Minds. Student Minds is the UK’s student mental health charity, empowering students and members of the university community to look after their own mental health, support others and create change.

If you are worried about your mental health, Counselling Directory can help you find a counsellor near you. Search for therapists in your area by entering your location in the box below.