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Priory expert calls for focus on the ‘compassionate campus’ as stats show only 1 in 4 students is ‘very happy’ with mental health support offered by their university

Priory expert calls for focus on the ‘compassionate campus’ as stats show only 1 in 4 students is ‘very happy’ with mental health support offered by their university

  • 45% of students say studying for a university degree is very stressful
  • 40% say their university does not help them at all with money management, with one in four finding managing money very stressful
  • 42% of all students stated they are either ‘very’ or ‘slightly concerned’ about their financial situation after they graduate
  • Wales gets ‘top marks’ for well-being with 94% of students in Aberystwyth saying they feel their university offers affordable well-being programmes

A hugely competitive job market to enter, straddled with high student debt, and a demanding degree course to fulfil, mean mental health support for students at university should be top of colleges’ agenda, says a Priory expert.

Latest data from the Natwest Student Living Index says that almost half (45%) of all UK students feel ‘very stressed’ by their degree studies, with one in four agreeing that money management is a ‘very stressful’ additional issue.

The findings come as hundreds of thousands of students are due to arrive at university for the first time this month – with others following shortly afterwards to resume their degree courses.

The challenges and burdens facing the millennial generation were laid bare by a major report issued by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority earlier this year which said people in this age group “face a series of difficulties in building wealth … due to the combined impact of rising house prices, insecure employment and higher debt, including student debt”.

The Natwest annual survey1 highlights financial management and pressures of academic study as key areas of anxiety. The data, recorded from students across 35 universities, also included insight into the levels of mental health support already on offer for university students.

Students said that trying to study whilst juggling money issues added to their stress - only 14% of students said they had taken on a paid part-time job.

Students in Scotland felt the least stressed by money management, with the 2019 Student Living Index revealing that only 14% of students in Glasgow rated the issue as “extremely stressful” compared with a 23% national average.  St Andrews residents (22%) are the least stressed by their studies whilst Stirling (30%) and Aberdeen (33%) also performed well.

However, this more positive attitude to money may be related to the fact that students who are originally from Scotland will be exempt from tuition fees, unlike those who have travelled north of the border.

Leading Priory adolescent and child psychiatrist, Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, says; “Now, perhaps more than any previous generation of undergraduates, students will start university life knowing their debt levels are rising from the day they start, as are house prices and the competitive nature of the job market. With added economic uncertainty, students are facing the worry that even with a degree they won’t find a job that will easily cover their rent, or enable them to access the property ladder. This is certainly reflected by increasing numbers of undergraduates accessing – or attempting to access - mental health services.”

Despite the prevalence of financial anxiety, the new data showed that 40% of students surveyed said that their university did not help then at all with money management, and if they do overspend, one third of students rely on an overdraft to supplement income. These stresses continue past university with 42% of all students feeling ‘very’ or ‘slightly concerned’ about their finances post-graduation.

Dr van Zwanenberg continues, “Financial worries, lack of experience looking after yourself and making friends hundreds of miles from home, as well as a pressure to achieve top grades, risk creating a negative impact on student life. In some cases, this is leading to increasing ‘drop out’ rates among students unable to cope. I cannot stress how important it is to open up and talk. There is no shame - and certainly should be no stigma - in admitting you are feeling overwhelmed by feelings of depression and anxiety.

“The time has come for us all to accept that student days have changed and whilst there’s no reason why they shouldn’t still be ‘the best days of your life’, students – and their parents - may have to adjust their expectations and be prepared for some pitfalls. With fees high and the jobs market highly competitive, it’s vital that mental health is supported throughout a degree course.”

A further study, carried out by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, showed that the number of students who disclosed a mental health condition almost doubled between 2012 and 2015, to nearly 45,000.  Yet, despite this, national figures suggest that mental health difficulties within higher education are still underreported. Currently, just one in 125 students (0.8%) and around one in 500 staff (0.2%) have disclosed a mental health condition to their university.

So, if stress starts to spiral towards anxiety, self-harm or the prospect of ‘dropping out’, Dr van Zwanenberg offers 7 tips for both students and concerned families and friends:

Tap into existing support
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Feelings of being lonely can be defeated
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Pause and concentrate on the moment and not the future
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Social media
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Eat well, stay well
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Phone home
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About Priory Group:

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care, and the Middle East. The Priory Group is owned by NASDAQ-listed Acadia Healthcare, which is recognised as a global leader in behavioural health.


1These findings were taken from NatWest’s Student Living Index 2019. This was conducted by YouthSight in June 2019 from 3,604 university students living in the UK

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