Universities are struggling to cope with rising demand for mental health services for students, says a think-tank report. The Higher Education Policy Institute says some universities need to triple how much they are currently spending on support.
The report says one in 10 students has a “diagnosable mental illness.”
Ruth Caleb, of the Higher Education Working Group on Mental Health, said counselling could help students before a “concern becomes a crisis”.
The report calls for more support for students who have problems such as depression, anxiety and loneliness. It calls for more continuity of care, such as allowing students to be simultaneously registered with a GP both at their parental home and at university. Nick Hillman, DiRector of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that students starting university need to know that support is available.
“Mental disorders are most common in young adults, just at the age when many people become students,” he said. “Going to university can be stressful, especially for first-in-family students. Typically, you lose your established support networks, move to a new part of the country and take on large debts. Occasionally, it even ends in tragedy.”
Holly Johnston, the St Andrews Students’ Association Wellbeing officer, said, “No matter the state of an institution’s support system, I think there is always capacity for improvement and this should be reflected on by those involved, including at St Andrews. Student Services do great work and they have just appointed a dedicated mental health professional, which shows they take the issue seriously.
“Mental health is an important issue and needs solutions which will treat it as such, and we would encourage anyone who is in difficulty to contact student services or their GP. The Wellbeing Committee alongside the Director of Representation are also happy to point students in the right direction should they require it, in full confidence.”
The report is supported by Norman Lamb, former Care Minister, who said: “I regularly meet with university students all across the country and am struck by how often mental health is raised as one of their main concerns about life on campus.”
Universities UK says a strategy for student wellbeing is currently being devised by a group chaired by Steve West, vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England. It will set guidelines for counselling and mental health services that should be available from universities and the NHS.
Universities UK’s chief executive, Nicola Dandridge, said: “It must be a core part of the offer to students, parents and staff as well as to local and national stakeholders.
“Student wellbeing must be at the heart of the university.”