Many UK university students are reportedly struggling with “loneliness and declining mental health”, according to new research by IT and consulting services company Accenture.
In collaboration with Cibyl, Accenture’s report found that a staggering 80% of students said Covid contributed to their poor mental health.
“There’s a significant disconnect between the experiences of different students”
According to the report, UK students are struggling with “the pressure to achieve”, as well as finding it difficult to make friends and continuously having problems with their mental wellbeing.
“Despite the resources and support services universities provide, university is not a dream experience for everyone,” said Barbara Harvey, managing director of Accenture.
“There’s a significant disconnect between the experiences of different students,” she added.
In recent years, many universities and society in general has pushed a spotlight onto mental health and how integral it is to a healthy life as well as physical health.
However, the report found that while virtually all universities provide such support, most students “aren’t utilising the services on offer”.
“During the pandemic, many [universities] expanded the range and reach of their offerings… but awareness of services doesn’t necessarily lead to student’s knowing how to access what they need,” the report reads.
It also pointed out that the most commonly used services are not “necessarily the most effective ones” and half the students surveyed said they did not feel their mental health was “well supported overall”.
The report also mentions that a compounding of the issue could be the rough transition from CAMHS to adult services.
“Half of adult mental health conditions arise by the age of 14… yet at university, more of the onus for arranging care suddenly falls on the student’s shoulders, just when many are living away from home for the first time and having to navigate unfamiliar territory,” it reads.
“The possibility of falling through the net in this context is all too real,” it adds.
The report also focused on the different demographics that exposed the complexity of student mental healthcare needs.
“Trans students, students with physical disabilities, gay and lesbian students, and those from lower socioeconomic groups reported the highest levels of poor mental health,” the report said.
Women are more likely to report it than men, and those in their second and final years report it more often – which “implicates the role of pressure” in declining mental health among students.
When it came to conditions, by far the most common condition reported was anxiety, which 72% of students surveyed said was something they experienced.
It was followed by depression at 53%, and burnout at 36%.
Despite Covid playing a part in 80% of students’ declining mental health, only 13% said it was the sole cause of their issues.
“Our study was conducted in an unprecedented climate, in a year when students worked largely online,” the report said.
“We have seen Covid-19 erode young peoples’ wellbeing and our students, too felt its impact.”
The report proposes some recommendations for universities – understanding the mental health risk profile of students before they arrive on campus is top of the list.
“[Universities should] invest in target interventions to more vulnerable groups, and understand the support different student groups need,” the report recommends.
“We have seen Covid-19 erode young peoples’ wellbeing”
It lists why certain groups may suffer worse than others – for example, individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to have had any training on taking care of their own mental health, with “fewer coping strategies” – the report says universities have the “opportunity to level the playing field”.
It also recommends educating students in what good mental health is and how to maintain it, as well as helping students to adapt to university life and “forge meaningful friendships”.
Finally, it says that chancellors of universities should adopt principles sourced in the Hippocratic Oath: “do no harm” and “prevention is better than cure”.
It says that working with students to understand pressure, considering flexibility on courses and address that pressure by recognising the difference between students and their ability to handle certain workloads.
“Our hope is to help universities better understand student mental health, and accordingly, change the way they support student wellbeing,” Harvey said.
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