One in five students in years 2 and 3 in the UK say they don’t have a “real friend” at university, according to a survey of more than 12,000 students nationwide.
The discovery rekindled fears that students were struggling with loneliness and declining mental health.
Some 42% of students have had suicidal thoughts at some point, the survey reveals. Of these, 24% – or more than one in ten students – say their thoughts turned to suicide for the first time at university; and 16% say they wanted to hurt or hurt themselves in the past 12 months.
The survey, carried out by student market research consultancy Cibyl for Accenture during the COVID-19 pandemic, found that as social restrictions and other impacts of the pandemic continue, more of the half – 55% – of college students say they feel lonely every day or week and 45% say they’ve avoided socializing in person or online with others.
The isolation currently experienced by students appears to be contributing significantly to the decline in mental health, according to the Accenture report.
Four in ten students – 39% – report a deterioration in their mental health since entering college, and more than half – 53% – have experienced at least seven symptoms of poor mental health in the past year.
Dasha Karzunina, Head of Research at Cibyl, said: “It is clear that feeling connected and supported has a significant impact on the mental well-being of students.
Different mental health experiences
the report The survey also reveals that students from different backgrounds have different experiences with mental health. People with longer-term or more severe mental health problems are much more likely to see their mental health deteriorate further in college (58%), followed by neurodiverse students (49%), people with disabilities (45 %), women (43%). and LGBTQ students (42%).
Students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds have higher rates of suicidal ideation (47%). Some 67% of LGBQ students and 81% of transgender students will have had such thoughts at some point in their lives, according to the report.
Ben West, a recent graduate, said: “No student should have to pay for a degree in their life. This report highlights areas universities need to improve to better support all students, many of whom have spent the last year feeling left out and ignored.
“I really hope that universities and government heed the findings and recommendations of this report and act to improve the industry to help the people whose lives depend on this change.”
The survey was conducted online between October 2020 and December 2020 and was completed by 12,014 students from 140 universities.
Barbara Harvey, Managing Director and Mental Health Sponsor at Accenture UK, said: “University is an integral part of the lives of so many young people and can be a great leveler when it comes to the career opportunities open to students of. all walks of life.
“However, our research reveals that, despite the resources and support services provided by universities, university is not a dream experience for everyone and there is a significant disconnect between the experiences of different students.”
Karzunina said: “Universities are well positioned to create a healthier culture and improve the resilience of their students. We hope that the findings and recommendations in this report will inspire action by universities and employers to better understand, educate and support their students and graduates, and to continue conversations about mental health to tackle stigma head-on.
Pandemics, preparedness and pressure
Not surprisingly, the report says, COVID-19 has played a significant role in eroding the well-being of students, with 80% of them stating that it has contributed to their poor mental health. However, the poor mental health of the students preceded the pandemic; only 13% of students fully attribute their mental health problems to COVID-19.
Preparation for the university experience is a stumbling block in mental health. Only one in 10 students say they feel fully prepared for the reality of university life, those who feel less prepared are more likely to report mental health issues (44% vs. 32%). Perhaps more importantly, they were 1.6 times more likely to see their mental health decline since entering college (54% vs. 33%).
Worryingly, Harvey noted in the foreword to the report that half of the students “did not think their mental health was being supported in college and many are reluctant or unable to access the care they need.” .
Make mental health count
In fact, most universities offer – either directly, through the National Health Service or through other organizations – a range of support services ranging from general health centers (run by general practitioners) to dedicated mental wellness centers and crisis services such as the Nightline telephone service which are run by the students themselves.
The report says universities are well aware of the need to provide mental health support, and virtually all do. But research reveals that most students do not use the services offered, with 60% of respondents who have a mental health problem stating that they do not have access to any support provided.
When asked why they didn’t seek mental health support in college, four in ten (42%) said it was just not knowing what to say or how to express their feelings.
Data showed that this uncertainty was particularly high among Afro-Caribbean students from overseas – of this group, 34% did not know how to describe their mental health.
In addition, it was not just mental health services that students did not open up to. Although most speak to family or friends, only 11% speak to academic support staff and 9% to academic staff. Significantly, 17% do not speak to anyone, which rises to 32% of men and 20% of students from ethnic minorities.
Most efficient services
The report indicates that mentors and friends top the list when it comes to service effectiveness (80% of users rate them as effective), outperforming more traditional (and popular) services such as general practitioners (61 % efficiency) and aid to well-being. services (63% efficiency).
Mental health counselors and stress management workshops were ranked the second and third most effective services (72% and 71% effective, respectively).
Students who saw their university as a university that supported good mental health in general (as well as during the pandemic) and who knew how to access help were almost three times less likely to say their mental health had gone downhill. degraded since they started there, according to the report.
He says the introduction of a mental health charter among universities was an important first step. And developing an impartial standard against which universities could be evaluated and held accountable “would go a long way to make the effectiveness of mental health services and the culture of these institutions more transparent and, ultimately, better. adapted to their objective ”.
Mental health framework for action
The report stresses that the experience and voice of the student “should be at the heart of every action”.
In response to the research findings, Accenture offered a framework for universities to help address student mental health and well-being:
• Know: Understand your students’ mental health risk profile before they even start and proactively target interventions.
• Support: Provide the right level of support, making access easy and natural. Provide multiple channels for students to choose an approach that works for them.
• Learn: Educate students on what good mental health is, how to maintain it, the value of seeking help early, and how to support themselves and others.
• Connect: Helping students adapt to university life, forming meaningful friendships and reducing loneliness: there is a strong correlation between feeling connected and well-being.
• Culture: University chancellors should adopt the principles enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath – “Do no harm” and “Prevention is better than cure”.
Harvey said: ‘With almost half of young people in the UK now entering higher education, and this year’s cohort doing so after 18 months of disrupted learning and social life, universities need to improve at both technological support and human mental health support offered. for those who need it.