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How Can Universities Stop Failing Students With Mental Health Issues? | HE Research Snippet #27

Tags: HE Thinking

Andreanne Orsier, Higher Education Research Team
Andreanne Orsier, Higher Education Research Team

Andréanne heads up YouthSight’s Higher Education research team and helps universities drive commercial success.

The number of students dropping out of university citing mental health issues is at a record high. So why are institutions forcing students to wait for up to four months for mental health support?

This HE Research Snippet will explain how HEIs can improve their support for mental health and the wellbeing of their students. Furthermore, how does the prevalence of mental health support impact student intake, retention, and academic performance? We also share a voxpop of our student members talking about the kind of support they received, or a lack thereof, from their universities.


UK universities face a mental health crisis

Students face enormous pressure at university, from isolation and academic pressure to money and debt concerns. Our own research at YouthSight discovered that 67% of university students say they have suffered anxiety, and 66% say they have suffered depression.

In the worst cases, students resort to suicide. The suicide rate on UK campuses is now at a record high, and our YouthSight data is damning. 31% of university students say they have felt suicidal at some point, higher than those at school or in full-time employment.

What % of university students have sufferred from depression, anxiety or felt suicidal?


(YouthSight, State of the Youth Nation Dec 2017, M8, M9) Q: Have you ever suffered from the following?

But what influence does student mental health have on their academic performance? And how is this linked to their likelihood to continue with their studies and remain at university?


Mental health is linked to dropout rates

The number of students leaving courses early as a result of mental health issues has trebled in recent years. But our research finds that support for mental health can help lower that dropout rate. In fact, 81% of students who receive counseling say it helped them stay at university. Brunel University even claims its counseling service saves the university £2.5 million per year in dropouts.

Higher Expectations’ data shows that good support is key to retention, but also attraction. We asked students, "What was the key reason you decided not to pick this University?" 

“I watched a friend have a severe mental breakdown at this university and got very little help, this puts me off”

(YouthSight, Higher Expectations, 2016)

This is only the tip of the iceberg, subscribers to Higher Expectations and State of the Youth Nation can explore student wellbeing and its impact in much more detail.


Exclusive voxpop - ug students talk about how universities can better support their mental health 


Student mental health is linked to academic performance

Lucas North, a York University student says,

“I kept missing [seminars] because depression meant I struggled to leave my room. It’s really affecting me academically.”

But, again, counseling can turn it around. 79% of students say that counseling improved their grades. A strong mental health support system is not just good for students, it’s good for the university.

The university make you feel appreciated and they make you want to feel a part of something. They have an excellent mental health service which is called well-being and offer counselling and mentoring to tackle issues such as stress management, anxiety and depression which can be common in new students.”

Q: Why would you recommend your university to others? (YouthSight, Higher Expectations, 2016)

What HE professionals can do to support student mental health

  • Allocate adequate spending for student mental health support and counsellors.
  • Clearly communicate available mental health services on campus to students throughout the year.
  • Promote mental health support services in your prospectus and on your website to encourage prospective students.
  • Discuss and show mental health and counseling services on open days.
  • Invite applicants with mental health issues to speak to counsellors before term starts.
  • Train academic staff in how to spot and address mental health issues in students. Ensure they too know what services are available to students so that no-one who needs support falls through the gaps.


But don’t just take our word for it, take it from your students. Check out our exclusive SnapMe video featuring our panelists talking about support they have or haven’t received from their university:

Exclusive voxpop - ug students talk about how universities can better support their mental health