Mental health is an issue in the spotlight as never before, especially amongst young people. Rising suicide rates among university students coupled with a trebling of students dropping out with mental health problems have prompted calls for universities to improve mental health services.
The impact of mental ill-health is well-documented; young people with mental health problems are more likely to experience educational difficulties, eating disorders and self-harm. With three-quarters of all mental illness developing by the age of 24 years and with almost half of all school leavers now going on to university, higher education institutions have an essential role to play in safeguarding young people. It is perhaps unsurprising that as many as 94% of universities have experienced a sharp increase in the number of people trying to access support services, with some institutions seeing a threefold increase over the past five years, according to research by the IPPR.
It is essential that university support services are able to meet this increased demand effectively. In a recent report, Universities UK called for urgent action to improve the coordination of care between universities and the NHS. When young people leave home for the first time, their health information rarely travels with them. The report identifies the need for mental health support to acknowledge this, along with the challenges of independent living, balancing a demanding academic schedule and a job, and making new friends.
It’s clear that addressing mental ill-health in university students is essential if we are to improve the well-being of our young people, and give them every opportunity to fulfil their potential.