A report looking into 58 UK higher education providers shows that five times as many first year university students are disclosing a mental health condition now compared with ten years ago.  

The research reveals that Millennials are more likely than previous generations of young adults to disclose experiencing a mental health condition at 19% of young adults (aged 16-24) experience a mental health condition, up from 15% in 1993.

Female students were significantly more likely than male first-year students to disclose a mental health condition. 

Demand for counselling

The report has also found that 94% of UK universities have seen an increase in demand for counselling services.

In some universities, up to 1 in 4 students are using, or waiting to use, counselling services.

However less than half (48%) of students who report experiencing a mental health condition disclose it to their university, suggesting significant levels of unmet need.

IPPR Senior Research Fellow, Craig Thorley, said: “The number of students who report a mental health condition to their university is growing rapidly. And a significant proportion experience mental distress and/or low wellbeing which risks disrupting their studies.

"Universities must be ready to support these students, including, where appropriate, through referral into specialist care. But the extent of support is currently too varied, and many university services are overwhelmed by the level of demand.

"As a first step, the university sector should make a firm commitment to drive up quality and increase access to support services. Along with strengthened NHS provision and funding, this will help ensure that no student is held back by their mental health.”

Specialist support

Andrew Reeves, Chair of BACP, who worked for many years in a higher education context, said: “Properly resourced counselling in universities can provide accessible, timely, specialist support to distressed students, helping them to continue with, and successfully complete their studies, as well as cope with the specific pressures of university life and common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

“A service provided within the university setting provides an easy to access, familiar and less stigmatising environment in which to receive mental health support; and so is more likely than traditional NHS-based services to be used by, and be useful to, a student population.

“Waiting times for assessment and beginning therapy in university and college counselling services are also generally better than primary care mental health services.

“With NHS IAPT support services already oversubscribed and students facing increased emotional and psychological pressures, university-based counselling services are required more than ever.”

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