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Mental illness on the increase in HE

Levels of mental illness among students in higher education is significantly higher than other sections of the population according to new research

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | September 18, 2017 | Events

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has found that over the past 10 years there has been a fivefold increase in the number of students disclosing a mental health condition.

15,395 UK-domiciled first-year students reported having a mental health condition in 2015/16, almost five times the number than in 2006/07. This equates to 2% of first-year students in 2015/16, up from 0.4% a decade earlier. Worryingly the IPPR reported that the number of students committing suicide rose to a new record in 2015. Student suicides increased from 75 to 134, a rise of 79% in the period between 2007 and 2015. The IPPR also suggested that "due to an imperfection in the way data is collected, the actual number of mental health disclosures is likely to be higher than described in this report".

The Institute for Public Policy Research called on universities to make the issue a ‘strategic priority’, stating that while although they are primarily education providers, they do have a responsibility and an interest in protecting and promoting students mental health and wellbeing. The report called on higher education institutions to adopt a ‘whole-university approach’, focusing on two key elements: prevention and promotion; and access to support, care and treatment.

The extent of support is currently too varied, and many university services are overwhelmed by the level of demand

"The extent of support is currently too varied, and many university services are overwhelmed by the level of demand," said IPPR senior research fellow Craig Thorley.

Universities have over the past five years experienced a huge increase in demand for counselling and support services. Around 94% reported an increase in demand for counselling, with 61% reporting an increase of over 25%. In some universities, up to 1 quarter of students were using or waiting to use, counselling services.

Improving mental-health services could aid universities in student retention. Despite a rise in tuition fees and increasingly competitive job markets, the research showed that 1,180 students in 2014/15 who experienced mental health problems dropped-out of university without earning a degree, an increase of 210% compared to 2009/10, once again a new record.

At the Higher Education Conference and Exhibition leading educationalist Sir Anthony Seldon, will be discussing strategies to boost the mental health and wellbeing of students and staff while embedding advanced mental health practices across all university activities. View Sir Anthony Seldon’s keynote session, here.

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