Depressed, anxious, lonely, and homesick: study reveals darker side to student life

HE Thinking | 07 Jun 2013


A new study released by the Nightline Association suggests negative feelings and mood states including depression, anxiety, and stress are prevalent in the UK’s student population. (Study conducted by YouthSight with 1,000 participants. Original press release can be found here.)

A nationally representative sample of 1000 university students found that:

  • 75% of them had personally experienced some kind of emotional distress while at university.
  • Stress topped the list at 65% whilst 43% of students stated that they had experienced anxiety, loneliness and feelings of not being able to cope.
  • Around 1/3 of students had felt depressed or homesick at some time
  • 29% had worried about not fitting in at university.
  • 1 in 12 stated that they had experienced suicidal thoughts – nearly half of which (45%) were based in the Midlands or Scotland.


The research, conducted by YouthSight, also found that of the students who reported negative feelings, around 1/3 (32%) had experienced them at night – a time when other specialist welfare services are usually closed.

Mags Godderidge, Charity Development Manager states: “This research gives us an interesting insight into student well being. Only 5% of students surveyed agreed with the statement ‘No, I don’t know anyone who has experienced these feelings whilst at university’ suggesting these negative feelings and mood states are prevalent in the UK student population. That so many students are feeling anxious, depressed, lonely and homesick during the night only further supports the need for services like Nightline”.


Student suicide rates have doubled

Last November, data from the Office for National Statistics published by Mental Wealth UK revealed that student suicides had doubled over a four year period between the years 2007-2011 whilst last month results from a NUS survey indicated high levels of stress and anxiety in the student population.

Teddy Woodhouse, Head of External Communications, and a former Nightline listening volunteer at St Andrews said: “All Nightlines are run by students for students. We know that university is a time of many changes and challenges so we can empathise with service users. Our specially trained volunteers listen to whatever it is that is troubling a student caller. Given that Nightline is confidential and anonymous, students accessing the service don't have to give their name.”

Hannah Paterson, NUS Disabled Students Officer, said:

“I think that the Nightline survey confirms much of the findings of the recent NUS mental health research. Three quarters of the Nightline respondents states that they had experienced some kind of emotional distress whilst at university. It was clear from the NUS findings that mental health is something that needs to be addressed on UK campuses, and this survey serves to compound that assertion. NUS is currently meeting with mental health organisations in a bid to bring all stakeholders together to examine the standard of mental health care in UK universities.”

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Notes to Editors.
The Nightline Association ( is a student-led charity that provides support to 34 Nightlines across the United Kingdom and Ireland. Nightlines, organised by students for students and covering over 90 universities and colleges, provide an anonymous and confidential listening service during the evening when other university welfare services are usually closed.
Fieldwork for this research was conducted by YouthSight on behalf of the Nightline Association between 25-30 April 2013. The sample consisted of 1000 questionnaires being completed by full-time students representative of the UK undergraduate population in terms of gender, year of study, and university type. Further data from this survey is available here.
In January 2012 broadcaster, actor and writer, Stephen Fry, spearheaded a BBC Radio Four appeal for the Nightline Association which resulted in listeners generously donating over £10,000. See more information here.
Statistics on deaths by suicide for students aged 18 and above, 2007-2011. Data found here.
The NUS Mental Distress Survey Overview can be found here.

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