Education & Family

Students' 'suicidal thoughts' warning from NUS

Mental health problems
There are warnings that students are not looking for help with their problems

There are under-recognised problems of stress, depression and suicidal thoughts on university campuses, warns a survey from the National Union of Students on mental health problems.

More than one in 10 students said they had experienced "suicidal thoughts", in a survey of 1,200 across the UK.

There were 14% who had considered self-harm and 38% had feelings of panic.

Paul Farmer, head of mental health charity Mind, called for a "culture of openness" in providing support.

The study found a wide range of negative feelings - with 80% feeling stressed, 55% feeling anxious, 50% having insomnia or sleeping problems and 40% feelings of "worthlessness" and "hopelessness".

Suffering in silence

Worries about exams and grades were widespread, but there were also many students whose anxieties were ascribed to emotional problems with their friends and families or pressures over money.

There were also more particular concerns - 22% said they were homesick, 15% were upset by the "insensitivity" of a lecturer.

Bullying was also a problem - with one in 20 students saying their anxiety was caused by bullying by another student.

There was also one in 20 who had problems with alcohol or other drug abuse.

"These stats are confirming what I have been hearing on campuses for some time," said NUS disabled students' officer Hannah Paterson.

But she said she was particularly concerned that "over a quarter of those surveyed did not tell anyone about their problems".

Students were more likely to tell their friends and family about feelings of anxiety, rather than a doctor or member of the academic or university counselling staff.

This is the first time that the union has carried out such a survey, so it is not possible to say whether this is a problem that is getting worse - but the NUS says students now face greater financial pressures from higher fees and worry about a tough employment market.

Ms Paterson says students face a particular set of challenges that can leave some struggling to cope.

They are having to look after themselves for the first time, they lack the support of family and friends at home and might feel there is a stigma in admitting they are having problems with their academic work or new friendships.

She says that this can also be the stage in people's lives when mental health problems can manifest themselves.

The NUS wants to make concerns about mental health a higher priority and to improve standards of support.

'Stigma'

Mind chief executive Mr Farmer said the survey revealed the extent of the problem and that too few students were seeking help.

"We are particularly concerned that more than one in 10 students surveyed had experienced suicidal thoughts during the time they've spent at their current place of study.

"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.

"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 where students feel able to talk about their mental health and are aware of the support that's available.

"Opening up to friends and family can help those feeling stressed or anxious, but anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or consistently feeling down may have an enduring mental health problem, so it's best they visit their GP. Nobody should suffer alone."

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