Going away to university is often said to be the best years of a young person’s life. Yet, the number of UK university students who report a mental health concern is now five times what it was ten years ago (Not By Degrees, Institute for Public Policy Research, 2017).
Student mental health in the UK
Over the past few years, there has been growing concern about the number of students in the UK reporting mental health concerns. In March 2019, the government announced a new task force to improve mental health support for university students, known as the Education Transitions Network.
- Anxiety and depression are by far the most common mental health concerns among UK university students (YouGov survey, 2016)
- One third of students in the UK report regularly feeling 'isolated or lonely' (Unite Students Insight Report, 2016)
- As many as one in four students seek help from counselling services at some higher education institutions (Student mental health must be top priority – universities minister, The Guardian, 28 June 2018)
- Around one in eight university applicants have a mental health condition, but of those, only 37% have disclosed, or intend to disclose, their mental health condition to universities (Reality Check, Unite Students & Higher Education Policy Institute, 2017)
To shine a light on this issue, Babylon Health asked UK university students with experience of anxiety to describe as vividly as possible how it feels for them. The responses were collected for UK mental health charities Student Minds and Nightline. The most powerful responses were then turned into illustrations as a way of bringing anxiety to life.
Dr Umang Patel, NHS paediatrician and Babylon Health Clinical Strategy Director:
“University students across the UK today are feeling overwhelmed by pressures, such as social media, in a way that did not exist for previous generations and as a result are suffering from uncertainty and a distorted perception of their own success. This has led to a significant rise in reported mental health concerns and impacts on our young people’s mental wellbeing. One of the most common issues being raised is feelings of anxiety."
By asking students what anxiety feels like for them, we were able to highlight some of the ways in which anxiety can affect personal growth and restrict opportunities. In order to emphasise the powerful physical sensation of anxiety and to bring the issue to the attention of a wider audience we have taken some of the most powerful quotes received through our research and illustrated them in a way to bring those feelings to life."
"Anxiety is having a constant internal voice scrutinising your every move. From if my exam results are good enough to what others think of me, it is a never-ending cycle of questioning myself."
"Anxiety can make you feel alone, stuck with constant repetitive thoughts."
"Anxiety can make you feel small when the rest of the world feels huge."
"It can become a crippling cycle of being anxious about the next time you’ll feel anxious ... you can be your own worst enemy."
"Anxiety feels like my shoelaces are tied in multiple knots, unable to be untangled."
"Anxiety is like trying to sleep on a school bench: uncomfortable and slightly worried you might fall right off. And, like trying to sleep on a bench, it leaves you exhausted."
"It feels like drowning in a cocktail of sugar, caffeine and unrealistic expectations."
"When everything looks normal, but feels really scary. Something doesn’t feel right but I know nothing is wrong."
"It can feel like a fire burning you from inside out."
"For me anxiety is a feeling of inadequacy, second-guessing and comparing yourself constantly to others."
All images from Babylon Health