A new report has revealed a growing problem of mental ill-health amongst students in Scotland, leaving university counselling services struggling to cope.
The research, conducted by NUS Scotland, found that 75 per cent of university mental health services have seen increased demand over the last year, with 40 per cent reporting that they cannot meet such a high levels of demand.
Students reported high levels of stress, with over 90 per cent saying that they struggled with stress during exams or assessments. They also felt stressed about managing their deadlines, considering their career prospects and financial concerns, including paying rent and working part-time during the school semester.
Speaking to The Journal, Chris O’Sullivan, Senior Project Manager at the Scottish Development Centre for Mental Health, said: “Student life is a period where there are a wide range of risk and protective factors in play.
"The undoubted pressures of academic life, adapting one's home life or balancing the needs of paid work and/or family have always been stressors in the student experience. That said, the camaraderie, identity, sense of purpose and opportunities for personal and social life that student life brings often helps to balance these risks.
“Since the economic downturn started to bite in all areas of life, there have been additional risk factors to consider. This has generally increased the level of people reporting poor mental health, and increased the use of helplines and other mental health services.”
The report also found that the vast majority of students would be reluctant to ask for help due to the stigma surrounding mental health.
80 per cent of respondents said they see such stigma as a barrier to obtaining help. Less than 18 per cent said they would feel able to approach student support services and only 6.8 per cent would approach external organisations.
Mr O’Sullivan continued: “It needs to be OK to say that you are not doing well. Student populations are no different to general populations when it comes to disclosing mental ill health, but in student life where there is so much emphasis on making new friends and forging new personal, academic and professional relationships, there is always a place for stigma, and the fear of being seen as weak, inferior or different.”
Dave Berger, Executive of the Heads of University Counselling Services, spoke to The Journal about why so few students may be reluctant to approach external organisations: “Where there are potential Fitness to Practise issues, for example, in students who are training to be doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, clinical psychologists and so on, there may well be a reluctance to disclose – certainly to a GP – if an individual student is having problems. This may make accessing University Counselling Services more attractive as we work within a model which does not medicalise such problems.”
NUS Scotland is now calling for increased investment in student support services to ensure that university counselling services are able to provide sufficient support. They are also calling for staff to be trained to spot mental health problems in students.
Jennifer Cadiz, Deputy President of NUS Scotland said: “It's absolutely crucial that politicians, as well as college and university principals, prioritise funding for these vital student support services. If we are to tackle the growing problem around student mental health then we must be clear that student mental health services are a necessity for thousands not a luxury we can afford to see damaged by cuts.”
Students experiencing any of these problems can contact the Edinburgh Nightline on 0131 557 4444.