It is easy to write the statistic that over half of students at university have experienced ill mental health, yet statistics too often allow us to ignore just how many individuals have struggled in order to create that number.
It is a worryingly consistent figure. A recent survey notes that of the 77 per cent of students who chose to go to university purely for career opportunities, 70 per cent also noted their mental health became an issue for them, citing ‘depression,’ ‘loneliness’ and various ‘pressures.’ Not exactly the glowing endorsements described in the glossy prospectuses. Amidst the scrapping of grants and an increase of loans, it is hardly a surprise that the students who choose to go to university in order to better their career prospects were more likely to struggle financially and were thus also more likely to drop out altogether. Indeed a Guardian survey cites that over a third of students struggle with financial pressures, while nearly nine in ten students admit finding it hard to cope, illustrating that this issue is not confined to a limited few. This issue does not stop at graduation day. A Student Minds interim report on graduate well-being notes that nearly half of recent graduates are currently experiencing ill mental health, with even more mentioning past struggles.
These statistics alone should be enough to shock. But they represent a wider picture. Students in each survey note their reasons for university, aside from career goals, as the chance to a ‘best possible future’ or a way to ‘fulfill ambitions,’ learn more about their subject area, and branch out socially. Neatly balanced with their optimism, however, is that recurring word: pressure. Perhaps it is too simplistic to blame outside pressures for mental health struggles, but it is dismissive and inconsiderate to ignore them. Students at university are being bombarded on every level. From an increase in the number of (well qualified) graduates to compete with, a country divided by Brexit (overwhelmingly opposed by the younger generation), and a student loan capable of unnerving just about anyone, it is no surprise that students are struggling.
Of course, this pressure is not something that starts the minute students walk through their accommodation doors. Before university, students experience their schools being simultaneously compelled to focus on and drive up exam results while reassuring each cohort of students their worth does not rely on the same system they are trying to propel them through. Though adolescent mental health funding has been recently increased, at university, a quarter of students who seek out counselling are referred to their GP before being directed to a further NHS system. Problematic, considering the NHS’s underfunding and limited resources.
Though the problem of student mental health is undoubtedly complex and goes far further than work pressures, there are simple things the university could do more of. One such thing would be to add a welcome lecture signposting how to get mental health help.
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