Roar! looks deeper at our university’s ‘silent epidemic’.
Suicidal thoughts are experienced by 13% of students during their time at university, the recently published National Union of Students’ (NUS) Mental Distress Survey revealed. Commissioned in May 2013, the study paints a worrying picture for the welfare of students throughout the country.
Of those who claimed to have experienced suicidal thoughts, 11% stated that they experienced them all the time. Meanwhile, 40% of students had experienced a feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness during their time at university.
Furthermore, the demand for student counselling has also increased by 33% in the past four years, while student suicide rates in the same time frame have doubled, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Within the NUS report, the four most common ‘triggers’ in bringing on mental distress were all academia related, with course workload deadlines cited as a cause for 65% of respondents, exams (including revision) for 54%, while balancing study with other commitments and worry over grades and academic performance both rested at 52%.
Roar! spoke to Adam Roper, a student of mental healthcare nursing at King’s, who said: “I haven’t seen the services at King’s, but I have accessed counselling services at London Met before and found them incredibly beneficial in helping me find out more about myself whilst at university, which is a big time of change and development in your life.”
Although it is difficult to ascertain just how serious a problem it is at King’s, recent studies by PLOS Medicine show that depression is the second most common cause of disability worldwide. Many of the causes of such mental health problems remain unclear, yet the NUS Mental Distress Survey goes some way to explaining the trend.
Almost 30% of students feel that accommodation or housing has contributed to feelings of mental distress, while a huge 47% regard financial difficulties as a contributing factor.
Fortunately, a forthcoming KCLSU Student Council meeting at the Strand Campus on 12 November will see student representatives attempt to address the financial concerns of students. At the meeting, NUS Delegate Ben Woods and five other councillors will be aiming to bring about legislation that places King’s living bursaries on a par with those seen at LSE and UCL.
The NUS report suggests that if students want to improve the mental health of their peers, they might be able to have a direct impact themselves.
16% stated that the insensitivity of fellow students contributed to feelings of mental distress, and 5% felt that bullying or harassment from fellow students contributed to these feelings. Conversely, more students were likely to share their issues with friends than anyone else, even family members or their GP.
It could then be the case that the everyday student is the key to solving what Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt referred to in a speech last month as a “problem of loneliness, that in our busy lives we have utterly failed to confront as a society.” The NUS survey on mental health would suggest that university life does not buck the trend seen by the minister throughout society.
Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive of Mind (a charity that aspires to offer support and win respect for all those suffering from mental illness or distress) echoed Hunt’s sentiments. Farmer stated in response to the survey that “Higher education institutions need to ensure not just that services are in place to support mental wellbeing, but that they proactively create a culture of openness.”
He added: “Despite the high prevalence of mental health problems and stress among students, many people are not seeking help, perhaps because of the stigma that can surround mental health problems.”
Further campaigns highlighting mental health can be expected at a national level through the NUS, who have already hosted an event at the Royal College of Nursing emphasising the action they have taken. This is likely to be coupled with a campaign at King’s on the issue, where many student groups have voiced interest in improving support networks.
One particular example of this is the Peer Support Scheme which was established by the King’s Medical Students’ Association (MSA). According to Chiara Catterwell, Welfare Officer for the MSA, “Increasingly, students are accessing peer support schemes, and thus need for these services is growing on the ground, across all universities. Access to ‘official’ support services may seem intimidating, and distanced from the experience of many students.”
“Peer support allows students to contact services not only tailored to them, but manned by those who often face the same challenges, and consequently can support in an informal, relaxed and open environment.”