University is usually hailed as a ‘rite of passage’ – a boozy cocktail of word counts, seminars, trials, and new horizons. However, a new report from the digital charity Mental Health Innovations (MHI) has revealed that the university experience has been far from rosy for many students, who have had to navigate the old stressors and anxieties now compounded in the landscape of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The study revealed that 61% of students who contacted the free 24/7 messaging support service Shout 85258 were anxious about the upcoming university years, with loneliness (74%), relationships (72%), and workload (65%) topping concerns; meanwhile, worries about the future impact of the Pandemic are still widespread, with 30% anxious about future restrictions and 27% about disruption to in-person teaching.
Dr Dominique Thompson, GP and young people’s mental health expert, interpreted the findings: "The main challenges for students seem to be focused on what they have missed in terms of academic work, the loss of social skills as a consequence of isolation, the absence of their usual teen life experiences and milestones around leaving school and worries about what the future holds for them.”
“Help, any time of the day or night, is only a text message away”
Amid the figures suggesting an overall decline in student mental health and wellbeing due to Covid and increasing demand for mental health services, the majority of those surveyed expressed a desire for university-based mental health support to meet their needs. The report found that 75% of students want their university to provide text message support services, just surpassing the demand for face-to-face (72%), webchat (47%), and phone (43%) support networks.
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Consequently, as a result of the study’s findings, Mental Health Innovations and Shout 85258 CEO, Victoria Hornby said: “Scaling up digital mental health services will be key to providing students with the mental health support they need, when they need it, enabling them to flourish at university and beyond. We must ensure that no student falls through the cracks.”
So far, in 2021, Shout 85258 has taken 78,000 conversations with 27,600 students who have texted the service for immediate support with their mental health. The demand for this service is round-the-clock as 75% of students contacted Shout outside the hours of 9 am-5 pm, with the majority seeking support between 10 pm-12 am.
Dr Radha Modgil, NHS GP, broadcaster and wellbeing campaigner, advised: “If you’re a student and you're feeling overwhelmed or low, know that you are not alone and that you more than deserve support. It can be a scary thing to do, but the first step is telling someone how you feel. Try talking to a close friend, someone in your family, your GP or someone in confidence who is trained to help, like a Shout Volunteer.”
“Taking this first step will enable you to start making sense of how you are feeling and help you to understand about the kind of support that can help. You're all incredible, you're all doing an amazing job, and you've all come through so many challenges already. Keep supporting each other this year and remember that help, any time of the day or night, is only a text message away."