Student mental health is deteriorating at an alarming rate, so how can we improve it?

Lecture in Progress introduces its in-depth report into mental health within creative higher education in the UK, investigating its current state and the schemes looking to change it for the better.

20 May 2020


For the majority of students, the transition to university is one of mixed emotions. Not only does it mark an exciting new chapter, but it can also be a time of heightened pressures across the board, from financial concerns and increased self-doubt to feelings of isolation. And while it might be unsurprising to find that the need for emotional support is greater during higher education, in recent years we’ve seen an alarming rate of deterioration in student mental health.

This topic has become the central theme for the latest insight report by Lecture in Progress (It’s Nice That’s sister platform dedicated to helping young creatives understand the industry). The report draws on findings from multiple studies, news stories and in-depth interviews to ask: How can we improve mental health within creative higher education?

Launched in time for Mental Health Awareness Week, the 85-page report comes at a moment when the situation in universities was already being treated as a full-blown crisis. Back in 2017, it was estimated that 95 UK students had taken their own lives in a year, creating a huge sense of urgency for the sector. We’ve seen student demand for wellbeing and counselling services grow to its highest rate, increasing by up to 30 per cent over the past three years (as reported by UUK). In addition, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have left students in an even more precarious position, as feelings of confusion, grief, isolation, uncertainty and anxiety become more widespread.

The positive news is that action is seemingly high on the agenda, and the Lecture in Progress report covers many of the important initiatives and findings breaking new ground in this space. As of autumn 2020, we will also see the introduction of compulsory mental health education in English primary and secondary schools, which is set to provide young people with the tools they need to cope during difficult times.

With the aim of delivering detailed insight that highlights where universities can further support students, especially during this moment of heightened need, the report is intended to be as useful as and actionable as possible. This includes an exploration of the wider context of the issue through important updates and policy changes, as well as extended interviews with those who have been affected or are working tirelessly to create positive change.

Those interviewed for the report include graduate Rosa Kimosa, who gives an account of her own experiences while a studying; Brighton Illustration tutor Jasper Goodall, who describes his decision to train as a counsellor to further support his students; Steve West, UWE vice-chancellor and chair of the Mental Health in Higher Education Working Group; and Nottingham PhD student Camilla Babbage, who is advocating for the importance of peer-support groups. Plus, insight from the team behind “mental fitness” app Fika, which has gained a lot of traction with universities and students since launching in 2019.

Available to download from today, you can access the full report by signing up for free as a Lecture in Progress member. In the meantime, here are some key facts to take away.

  • Demand for wellbeing and counselling services in universities has increased by 25–30 per cent over the past 3 years. (Via UUK)
  • It is estimated that in 2016/17, 95 students took their own lives. (Via ONS)
  • 70 per cent of universities do not currently have a strategy for mental health. (Via Student Minds)
  • Six times more young people in England (aged 4 to 24) have mental health conditions than a generation ago, in 1995. (Via Psychological Medicine)
  • The number of students declaring a pre-existing mental illness to their university has more than doubled since 2014/15. (Via HEPI)
  • Staff referrals for counselling rose by 77 per cent between 2009 and 2015. (Via Student Minds)
  • 96 per cent of students want mental education as part of the university curriculum. (Via Fika)

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About the Author

Indi Davies

Indi is the editor of Lecture in Progress, a platform dedicated to helping emerging talent understand the industry, find opportunities and grow fulfilling creative careers.

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