British universities are experiencing a surge in student anxiety, mental breakdowns and depression. There has been a sharp rise in students dropping out – of the 2015 intake, 26,000 left in their first year, an increase for the third year running – and an alarming number of suicides. In the 12 months ending July 2017, the rate of suicide for university students in England and Wales was 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students, which equates to 95 suicides or about one death every four days. The Guardian reports.
Students around the country feel their universities are failing them. On World Mental Health Day in October 2018, students at University College London disrupted an open day with a demonstration about waiting times for counselling. In March this year, Goldsmiths students occupied Deptford town hall, calling for better access to counselling for BAME students. Student protests and demands for better mental health services are frequently dismissed in the press. “We just can’t cope with essay deadlines, and tests stress us out, moan ‘snowflake’ students,” read a headline in the Daily Mail in November 2017. In September 2018, the Times described today’s students as “Generation Snowflake” and suggested that “helicopter parents” had “coddled the minds” of young people. Meanwhile, some university staff worry that teaching is having to come second to supporting students’ emotional needs.
Expectations have changed radically over the last two decades – not least because students paying thousands of pounds in fees expect a certain level of service in return. I spoke to academics around the country who expressed their own anxiety that they might miss a vital sign that one of their students is struggling. “It’s extremely stressful to have this extra responsibility that we aren’t really equipped for, especially when many of us are already operating in an atmosphere of uncertain working conditions,” said one academic.
What do you think is causing or adding to the student mental health crisis? Social media, lack of sleep, pressures of the labour market, rising student debt or a target-driven culture? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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