Undergraduate Mental Illness | Dramatic Rise in Student Mental Health Problems

Therapy For Students

Are you just starting a new university course?  There’s something you should know!  In the last 10 years there has been a dramatic rise in mental health problems reported amongst first year undergraduates in the UK…


The IPPR Report 

In September 2017 the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published a report showing that over the last 10 years almost five times more students in the UK have informed their universities of mental health problems they are suffering.

In 2015-16, there was a reported total of 15,000 first year students, compared to about 3,000  in 2006.  There also seems to be a bigger rise amongst female undergraduates, who are more likely to disclose mental health problems. Suicide rates have also increased from 75 in 2007 to 134 in 2015. The drop-out rate rose a staggering 210% from 2010 to 1,180 students in 2015.

These are important numbers that need to be taken seriously.  They also mean that new students should keep a close eye on their emotional health – particularly during their first year of study.

The IPPR report also only collected responses from 58 universities, far below the total of 130 UK universities and university colleges in the country. This implies that the actual number of students with current mental health difficulties nationwide far exceeds the statistics above.

Of the universities who contributed to the IPPR study, 94% reported that in the last 5 years there had been an increased demand for university counselling services. Of these, only 29% had a detailed strategy for managing undergraduate mental health and associated wellbeing matters, which again, seems highly surprising and concerning.

Some universities had 1 in 4 undergraduates seeking or using in-house counselling services. The University of Birmingham demand had increased by 5-6% annually.

Through tight budgets and huge demand, it is also unlikely that university counselling services will be employing sufficient numbers of  suitably trained mental health practitioners to meet the demand.  It’s also often sadly the case that Universities aren’t quick enough to identify student mental health problems and refer them to the NHS, or local private Therapy Clinics, such as Dynamic You Therapy Clinics.

The report shows that less than half (48%) of affected undergraduates reported their conditions to their university, meaning a significant number are not getting necessary treatment. Less than two thirds (67%) of universities monitor student attendance to assess whether students’ mental health is satisfactory.


Common Mental Health Problems Students Face.

A YouGov report has reported that depression and anxiety problems are the biggest student mental health issues, and this fits in with the population at large. The YouGov survey also found that 77% have depression-related problems and 74% anxiety related symptoms, with some suffering both.

Other issues such as eating disorders and learning disabilities were statistically of less significance. Both depression and anxiety will seriously impact a person’s ability to live a productive and balanced life – not to mention that our ability to learn can be seriously impacted by these types of problems too.

The impact of social media and the ever present need to be in-touch via smart-phone technology, should not be underestimated too.  The competitive need to be in the loop affects people differently, but present day students have grown up with smart phones, which can become an extension of their personality, an integral part of living. It has its pluses – but its minuses can affect mental health considerably, particularly as it can be ever more difficult for young people to be able to cut-off and have downtime from the pressures of study, family and friends.

Mental health is becoming more openly discussed, but the age-long stigma associated with it should not be dismissed, for fear of the unwanted reaction it may produce with those to whom you confide. Although many people are now much more open about experiencing mental health problems, this can sometimes create difficulties in others who haven’t faced similar issues, and might struggle to know what to say or how to help a friend in the best way possible.

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses for students, and there is a reason that this is likely to be the case. For hundreds of thousands of new students it will the first time they have left home for extended periods. The transition from home to a totally different environment can be dramatic and stressful. A huge cultural change has occurred overnight.

Some students will adapt quickly and revel in the new freedom, whilst others may find the whole process of communal living with people they hardly know, bewildering and even frightening. The style of teaching from school is also different, and the need to be self-disciplined to keep up with the course work and timetables for assignment submissions is an essential skill to be mastered, to avoid sinking under the workload.


Student Opinions

Do any of the comments below sound familiar to you?  They are common comments made to us by students who have visited our Psychological Therapy Clinics…

  • You are under much more stress to achieve now.
  • Before instant messaging you could chat to your mates, and also avoid them when you want. Not any more.
  • There are not enough counsellors so the waiting time to get help is too long.
  • Even after an initial assessment, you have to was it months for a course of treatment.
  • If you are not keeping up with the competition and are not stressed there must be something wrong with you.
  • I’m struggling being away from home more than I thought I would.

University Support

The report published shows that support from universities can be patchy and the speed of their responses to the meet the rise in demand for mental health support often lags behind.

Sir Anthony Selden, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, (also an ex School Headmaster),  has suggested that universities view undergraduates as an ‘inconvenience’ behind their place in research and league tables. The mental and wellbeing needs of students are acknowledged, but the priority on addressing them has been lower than it should. Universities UK says it has issued information to all universities on how to support these needs.


It’s important to seek treatment as soon as you realise that you’re struggling emotionally.  It’s often much easier to resolve psychological issues the earlier you begin to work on them.  Evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT) are usually recommended as the first approach to try for most problems.

Unfortunately many University Counselling services may not employ or have access to appropriately qualified and experienced CBT Therapists, and so it’s often a good idea to check on the length of waiting lists at your local NHS service or consider seeking Therapy privately from a reputable Psychological Therapy Clinic, such as Dynamic You.

Dynamic You University Locations

We understand that students often need to seek private Therapy fast in order to resolve emotional issues quickly and minimise disruptions to their study.  That’s why we’ve opened up clinics in convenient locations for students from a number of UK Universities, such as our clinics in the following University locations:

Need Help Now? Contact Us Today To Schedule An Appointment With Our Expert Therapists