From the outside student life seems pretty straightforward. Sure there’s exams and assignments but on the whole the stereotype is that it’s generally fun.
Why then do more than a quarter of students suffer from mental health problems?
Look a little deeper and it becomes quickly apparent that for a number of different reasons, many young people are struggling during their time at university.
Depression and anxiety are two of the leading issues that students report. With 77% of students describing their mental health problems linking back to depression and 74% stating they suffer with anxiety.
We spoke with Dr Leon Rozewicz, a Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Priory Hospital North London about student mental health, seeking help and advice for universities to tackle the problem.
Do you find that patients are still reluctant to speak up and seek help for mental health issues?
Students can be reluctant to speak about mental health problems, as they are concerned that it will have a negative impact on their social life at university and on their future job prospects.
How much progress have we made in shifting the stigma surrounding the topic? How damaging is that stigma?
There have been huge improvements over the past 10 years. The 2010 Equalities Act has been very helpful in this respect. It is good to be able to reassure students that discrimination is illegal. The increase in discussions in the media has also helped to reduce the stigma and promote conversations about mental health problems.
In your own experience how frequently has university / studying been a cause of mental health problems in patients?
The transition from school to university in the UK is hugely stressful for many students. This is intensified by the fact that most students leave home for the first time when they go to university, where they lose the structure and support of family life at the same time as being faced with huge academic pressure.
There are also social pressures to fit in. Many are exposed to binge drinking, recreational drug use and sexual activity for the first time, where binge drinking and recreational drugs can directly impact mental illness.
The increase in the number of people going to university can be in itself problematic. Some people go to university simply because they feel pressured to do so by their families, where they struggle with academic work, which then leads to low self-esteem and even mental illness.
What advice would you give someone reluctant to seek the help they need?
Help will prevent things from getting worse; you will feel supported and start to feel better. Getting help will also give you the opportunity to succeed academically and thrive socially, improving your overall university experience.
What advice would you give a student feeling overwhelmed by university?
This is a normal reaction, which everyone experiences. Consider discussing your feelings with university friends and seek counselling.
Is there any advice you would give to universities themselves regarding their mental health services?
Universities need to be proactive in looking for mental health problems. They should focus on students struggling with academic work, where tutors are given training to spot mental health problems and help students to seek support.
Student Problems recently produced a series of documentaries exploring mental health problems amongst students.