Eight out of 10 students (78%) say they experienced mental health issues in the last year, according to a survey by the National Union of Students (NUS).
A third of the respondents (33%) also said they had had suicidal thoughts. Among those who did not identify as heterosexual, the figure was higher at 55%.
The NUS surveyed 1,093 students in further and higher education in November and December on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on students.
More than half (54%) of respondents who reported having experienced mental health problems said they did not seek support. A third said they would not know where to get mental health support from at their college or university if they needed it, while 40% reported being nervous about the support they would receive from their institution.
Aoife Inman, 19, a second-year student at the University of Manchester, said: “I think mental health issues are extremely common among students but it’s something not many people want to acknowledge or accept that they are suffering from.
“University was pitched to me as ‘the best years of your life’ and there is definitely an anxiety among young people to live up to that expectation. For those of us who struggle with mental illness at university you can feel constant disappointment for not fitting the student stereotype.”
University can actually be a highly isolating environment, she said: “Moving away from home and the securities of that environment means that students are often left without a safety blanket if we begin to struggle.”
Maddy Kirkman, disabled students’ officer for the NUS, said: “These findings are deeply concerning, and reaffirm the stark challenges that persist around providing effective support to students in universities and colleges.
“Alongside the impact of funding cuts to student support, including maintenance grants and the disabled students’ allowance, this shows a worrying lack of concern for students living with mental health issues.”
The publication of the research comes on the same day that MPs and peers will discuss student mental health in parliament. The event, coordinated by the APPG on students, will look at the issues raised through the research, and at what colleges, universities and others can do to better respond to students’ mental health needs.
Paul Blomfield MP, chair of the APPG on students and MP for Sheffield Central, which has the highest proportion of students in the country, said: “Our colleges and universities should be places of educational and personal development, where students feel supported. But these findings show us that significant numbers of students are suffering with mental health problems, many of them silently.
“These survey results are a wake-up call to all of us concerned with student welfare. MPs and peers from across the political spectrum will come together this afternoon to discuss what can be done.”
This article first appeared on ‘The Guardian’ on 14 December 2015.