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University Students’ Mental Health Problems Increase by One Third: Report Exposes

The rise of mental health problems among students in the past 12 months has coincided with the cost-of-living crisis.

Mental health problems among university students have tripled in recent years, with COVID-19 and the cost of living crisis among the causes.

A report has revealed that the share of undergraduate students in the UK with mental health difficulties rose from 6 to 16 percent between 2016/2017 and 2022/2023 academic years.

One in six students now report mental health challenges, according to the analysis by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO).

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It draws on a dataset of 82,682 respondents over seven years, with mental health being the most common reason for students to consider dropping out of university.

Another reason cited was financial distress, rising from 3.5 percent to 8 percent between 2022 and 2023.

The analysis reveals a rise in mental health problems among students in the past year, aligning with the cost-of-living difficulties experienced in a post-pandemic Britain.

The negative impact of the pandemic on young people could have been prevented, suggested a recent report by Save the Children and other experts.

The authors argued that the UK government failed to consider the children’s rights and interests during the pandemic and had them “at the back of the queue” when making decisions about lockdowns and school closures.

After the pandemic, schoolchildren went on to take their A-level exams and apply for university courses, having experienced significant disruption to their learning.

Income and Background

While COVID-19 and financial pressures have “clearly exacerbated” mental health challenges faced by students, the upward trend in numbers is not new, said TASO chief executive officer Dr. Omar Khan.

Researchers have indicated other factors at play, including gender and sexual orientation, family background, ethnicity and income.

Students who get most of their money through a loan, grant or paid work are more likely to have mental health problems than those on scholarships or with family support.

Those who have to rely on scholarships often come from the lowest-income backgrounds. In this light, researchers suggested that scholarships may have a positive impact on students’ mental health.

Findings also showed that state school graduates are worse off in terms of mental health than their peers who went to a private school.

If a student’s parents did not attend university, it would have a better outcome for the child’s mental health than if only their mother had a degree. However, those outcomes would be worse when compared to those students whose father or both parents attended university, the research showed.

White students were reported to have worse mental health issues (12 percent) than their peers from other ethnicities, except for Black Caribbean (10 percent) and Black Other students (10 percent).

“It’s clear the experiences of mental ill-health among students are deeply unequal, and exist along much the same lines as in society at large, with those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds or who often face discrimination being most likely in general to report struggles with their mental health,” said the author of the study, Michael Sanders.

The findings revealed that gay men and lesbians are experiencing a rise in mental health difficulties at three times the rate of straight people, and bisexual and asexual people at around double the rate.

Twelve percent of female students were affected by poor mental health compared to 5 percent among male students.

Mr. Sanders said that further action and adequate resources should be available to prevent the rising trend of mental health problems among students in the UK.

To support recovery from the pandemic, the Department of Health and Social Care announced in March 2021 £79 million in funding to significantly expand children and young people’s mental health services.
In January, the government announced plans for a major conditions strategy, that will include mental health. The strategy is set to deliver a coherent policy agenda focused on integrated, care.

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