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Mental Health of Students & What Can Be Done

As thousands of 18-year olds in the UK have begun or are about to begin their university experience, starting with the infamous ‘freshers’ week’, now is an opportune moment to discuss the mental health crisis in universities.

Why are university students of particular concern? Given that the majority of mental health problems develop by the age of 24, university students are a group at high risk of having mental health problems.

Starting university is a major life transition, and can be both exciting and overwhelming. Not only must students manage multiple academic and social pressures, they must also navigate developmental challenges as they transition to adulthood.

Students today are faced with unique concerns compared to students in the past. This includes the stress of unprecedented financial burden from student loans and increased tuition fees, and the potentially negative consequences on wellbeing of the use of digital technologies and social media.

The statistics

Recent statistics reveal the extent of the student mental health crisis in the UK. In 2015/16, over 15,000 first-year students in UK universities reported that they had a mental health problem, compared to approximately 3,000 in 2006.

This increase in disclosure is mirrored by a 94% of higher education institutions reporting an increase in demand for their counselling services. Despite the surge in help-seeking behaviour, there is evidence to suggest that there are many more students who do not seek treatment for mental health problems.

There are a range of implications of worsening mental health among students. Poor mental health has been associated with poorer academic outcomes, as students tend to be less able to effectively manage stress and pressure and, thus, their ability to perform given tasks productively is diminished.

Why it’s a problem

They may also be more likely to drop out of university; statistics highlight a 210% increase in university dropouts among students with mental health problems from 2009/10 to 2014/15. Of even greater concern is that student suicides have increased by 79% from 2007 (75) to 2015 (134).

Indeed, student mental health is being pushed higher up the government’s agenda. In June of this year, universities minister Sam Gyimah announced a new package of measures, including a University Mental Health Charter and a working group to support students transitioning from school into university.

What can be done?

While this package is promising and reflects a wider commitment to improve student mental health, a more proactive approach needs to be taken at government and NHS level, and at the university and higher education level.

This includes universities adopting a whole-university approach to student mental health, which should be informed by best practice. Universities and higher education institutions should seek to implement currently available programmes to strengthen the current evidence base and identify what refinements are required.

Through improving and strengthening this research base, better, evidence-based investment decisions regarding mental health provision in universities can be made.

Addressing mental health in students can have a positive effect on mental health in later life. By ensuring student mental health is treated as a societal concern, we can encourage early intervention and action.

By intervening early, at a critical transition point in young people’s lives, we can avoid the long-term risks associated with poor mental health, which can have far-reaching consequences for the next generation.

helping depression sufferers

Helping a friend out of Depression

Do you have a friend who has been down on their luck? Here are five simple ideas, that are either cheap or free that can help lift there spirits.

  • Make them a care basket. You can fill it with their favorite bath bombs, soaps, and snacks. This can give them a day or night to relax.
  • Have a movie day or night. Pick out a movie from the tv or a streaming service.  Go to the local theater. Catch a new movie.
  • Treat your friend to a meal out or better yet bring one to them. Having a meal out and catching up can be fun. If your friend does not feel like going out bring a meal to them
  • Send them a letter-Sometimes sending a handwritten note and highlighting all the fun qualities he or she has or just saying hang in there is all a person needs.
  • Be a listener. Sometimes a friend just needs someone to talk too. So listen, do not judge, and in the end give them a hug.

It’s common for people to not fully understand how a person feels when they’re suffering from depression and commonly people resort to saying things like “snap out of it”, while backed by the best of intentions it’s one of the worst things you could possibly say to someone at their lowest. Of course, if they could just snap out of it, undoubtedly they would love to. A bit of company by close friends or family and a good laugh or two and a well meaning gesture could make a world of difference to someone you know, even if the person hasn’t told you they have depression, this is a wonderful surprise to recieve even a good day so why not reach out to someone you care about?

NHS and Mental Health Services

NHS Services moving forward with Mental Health

It is a historic time for mental health, as the NHS celebrates its 70th year, the NHS is undertaking an ambitious programme to transform mental health services, and to provide equal status to mental and physical health. Dr John Hague, clinical mental health lead at Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG, points out that with nine out of ten adults with mental health problems supported in primary care, co-location of mental health therapists is a way of maximising the effectiveness of healthcare support.

One of the really important messages is to emphasise the effectiveness of evidence-based, low intensity talking treatments delivered in GP practices.

There is a perception among some GPs, nurses and patients that one-to-one treatments are the only valid mental health treatment, and  Dr hague is of the opinion that that’s just not true. He believes we need to challenge this thinking which is rooted in a past model that revolved around ‘counselling’ and the term ‘practice counsellor’.

Dr Hague is advocating more mental health therapies being offered in primary care on a group or guided self-help basis – for example for anxiety or depression among patients who have long-term conditions including depression, OCD and anxiety.

Co-location and therapy groups in practices are ways of increasing both the workforce and patients’ understanding of the effective mental health therapies in primary care pathways.

Although there can sometimes be barriers to co-location, such as accommodation issues or the availability of a room, mental health therapists are just as valuable in a surgery as the work that nurses and GPs themselves do. If the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service is seeing a patient then it is freeing up the GPs and nurses to do other work. So why not do it? There is no reason why not.

Evidence-based low intensity treatments are effective in terms of patient recovery and for most issues offer the most rapid, sure-fire chance of recovery.

Dr John Hague

Dr John Hague is based at The Derby Road Practice in Ipswich, Dr Hague’s main interest is in mental health in primary care, and the provision of high quality mental health care. Dr Hague was GP Clinical Lead for the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme at NHS East of England between 2008 and 2011 – a role in which he delivered an IAPT service to between 11 and 13 Primary Care Trusts. He is a General Practitioner appraiser for NHS England. Having gained more than 30 years’ experience as a GP at the Derby Road Practice in Ipswich, he now works there as a salaried GP.

Dr Hague is a member of the Clinical Executive at Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG, and has been appointed Clinical Mental Health Lead for North East Essex and Suffolk STP. He has written a number of professional publications including The Neglected Majority (The Centre for Mental Health), November 2005 (co-author).

Take a look at some of the NHS Trusts who have used Choices Education resources here.