Students who report a mental health condition are less likely to succeed in higher education than their peers, new analysis by the Office for Students has revealed.
Those affected are more likely to drop out and less likely to achieve a first or 2:1. Students with a mental health condition are also statistically less likely to progress to skilled work or further study after graduation, the university regulator added.
The announcement came after the release of the Office for Students’ (OfS) new Insights brief, ‘Mental health: Are all students being properly supported?’, which highlights the inequality faced by those with a mental health condition.
The number of students declaring a mental health condition has doubled in the last five years from 1.4% to 3.5%, but the OfS said a recent Unite survey, which suggested only half of undergraduates with a condition declares it, means the Insight brief’s analysis is “likely to be substantially underestimated”.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BME) and socially disadvantaged students with a mental health condition have, on average, some of the lowest attainment and participation rates in higher education. These figures have led the OfS to conclude that “mental health conditions compound equality gaps in higher education”.
As this data highlights, there is a need for that work to take account of how mental health issues relate to other characteristics
– Nicola Dandridge, Office for Students
Only 53% of black full-time students who reported a mental health condition graduated with a top degree and only three-quarters remain at university after their first year.
The attainment gap between black and white students with a mental health condition is nearly 27% – a figure the regulator described as “extremely high”.
The watchdog said statistics for LGBT+ students are not collected properly and urged universities to “better learn about the views and experiences” of those students.
Elsewhere in the report, the OfS said there was a gender disparity in the number of men and women declaring a condition to their provider. In the 2017/18 cohort of full-time students, 4.7% of females and 2% of males reported a mental health condition.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said: “Having a mental health condition should not be a barrier to success in higher education. But for too many students it is seriously impacting their ability to succeed academically, thrive socially, and progress into fulfilling careers.
“Mental health and wellbeing are complex issues and there is no simple solution. There is already a lot of good work being done to support student welfare but, as this data highlights, there is a need for that work to take account of how mental health issues relate to other characteristics.
“Universities and colleges by working in collaboration with other partners such as the NHS and charities, have the power to address these complexities, for instance by involving students in developing solutions, and by ensuring that the support they offer is coherent within the institution and is tailored to students’ needs.
“The OfS has funded a range of innovative projects across the country to incentivise the change that is needed. We are committed to sharing the effective practice that comes from this work and driving improved mental health support for all students.”