The pandemic has left a lasting legacy on the mental health of the ‘Covid generation’ of students, exacerbating rates of anxiety, depression and self-harm and leading to a ‘significant increase’ in the number of troubled young people at school. university, experts said.
UK universities have reported that more students are experiencing mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, and this is expected to continue with the cohort arriving in September, whose academic experience has been greatly disrupted by the pandemic.
National Union of Students President Larissa Kennedy said she was ‘deeply concerned’ about the ‘worsening’ student mental health crisis, with NUS research suggesting ‘the majority of students are overwhelmed by anxiety”.
Recent research by mental health charity Humen suggested that more than two in five students (41 per cent) did not believe their school prevented problems from occurring.
Nearly half (47%) of students said mental health challenges had a negative impact on their college experience, while a third said they didn’t know where to go for help, according to the survey of students. of 7,385 students.
Kennedy said student hardship was caused by exam pressure combined with the cost of living crisis, and called for more funding to introduce “early support centers” that would “stop thousands from reaching the point of crisis”.
Last week the government announced £3million in funding to bridge the gap between the NHS and academic mental health services, which the NUS warned was a straw. water in the ocean, equivalent to just £1 per student.
Universities “were seeing an increase in the number of students experiencing mental health challenges and while this has increased over time, it has undoubtedly been accelerated by the pandemic,” said Rachel Sandby-Thomas of the Association of Heads of University Administration (AHUA).
Dr Dominique Thompson, a leading medical expert on student mental health, added that professionals have seen “a significant increase” in the number of students with eating disorders, anxiety, loneliness and self-harm.
She said the younger generation had been ‘dreadfully impacted’ by the pandemic and the lockdown, and needed help to ‘rebuild their social skills, reassure them of their academic abilities and help them be emotionally well’, especially blacks, Asians or ethnic minorities. , LGBTQ+ and disabled students.
Recent data from the Student Loans Company suggests that these difficult experiences could translate into higher college dropout rates, with 3,706 more students dropping out of classes.
Humen also ranked universities on the mental health support they provide to students based on survey results and freedom of information data, including institutional spending and student satisfaction. . On this basis, the University of Reading was ranked highest, partly because it spent the most per student with an average of £70. Oxford and Central Lancashire came in second and third place.
Paddy Woodman, director of student services at Reading, said the university recognizes that mental health is affected by “a wide range” of issues and that universities have a unique role as “an organization that needs to help its clients with everything to do with their lives.” This includes helping students with welfare issues that don’t necessarily require professional support, such as difficulties getting along with roommates.
Helping students socialize was a particular focus, especially post-pandemic, Goodman said. She observed that students want quieter, more comfortable spaces to make friends and noticed a noticeable drop in the number of those who frequent the campus nightclub. “They missed that transition to adulthood, but in a safe home environment — exploring opportunities, going to parties, learning the rules of your behavior and how to manage,” she said.
A spokesperson for Universities UK said universities had ‘stepped up’ their efforts to support their students due to the difficult pandemic they have been experiencing, in combination with ‘social media saturation and climate anxiety’ . He added that it was a “shared priority” with the NHS and the government, which universities were lobbying to provide “sustainable funding and by commissioning NHS services for students”.