Starting university can be a daunting experience as new students leave many familiar faces behind to settle into a strange new city, and the reality of the workload starts to sink in. All of these pressures combined can have a big impact on the mental and emotional health of UK students today.
The number of first-year students arriving at university who report a mental health condition is now 5 times higher than it was 10 years ago.
How Stressed are Students Today?
Recently, the country’s largest-ever university mental health poll, which surveyed 37,500 UK students across 140 universities, revealed some shocking statistics. Researchers found that:
- 7% of students said they struggled with feelings of anxiety
- 8% describe themselves as often or always worried
- 33% described themselves as often or always feeling lonely
- 7% admitted to using alcohol or drugs to cope with these feelings
Today, we’re more open about mental health and illness than ever before, which is encouraging more people to open up about their struggles. However, it looks like there’s still a long way to go, with many students fearing stigma should they speak up.
- 5% of those polled said they had a current mental health diagnosis (10.2% with depression and 8.4% with anxiety). That’s nearly a quarter of the students surveyed.
Unfortunately, in many cases, students admit to concealing their symptoms from friends.
Top Causes of Student Stress
It’s easy to attribute anxiety in young adults to fast-paced lives, high expectations and tech-heavy interactions. But experts tell us that anxiety and depression in young adults often stem from feelings of uncertainty.
While more students are entering uni already experiencing anxiety and stress, the uncertainty and pressures that come with this new phase of life play a big role in compounding these issues.
So, what is to blame for the recent rise in anxiety among young people?
The costs of university education add up quickly and can put a significant financial strain on students and their families. Some students will feel the pressure to take on part-time jobs to compensate for this, on top of their existing studies and deadlines.
Academic pressure and uncertainty about the future:
With the job market becoming ever more competitive, students are under increased pressure to maintain good grades and excel in their chosen field of study. Today’s students spend more time studying compared to previous generations, face more competition in their career, and also find it more difficult to achieve job satisfaction.
Making new friends can be a struggle, and new students can often feel isolated and left out when starting their university years. Joining in with local student societies, sports and cultural activities can help students to connect with others and feel less isolated.
Missing home, friends and family can lead to new students feeling depressed and longing for their old environment, as they struggle to adjust to the “culture shock” of campus life.
Student housing that is crowded, noisy or badly maintained can leave students feeling like they’re living in complete chaos. Bad housing conditions interfere with students’ ability to focus on their studies and deprive them of a safe space to enjoy privacy and downtime. This can lead to major feelings of anxiety and depression. Good student accommodation can improve the uni experience dramatically.
Stress in Young Adults
A study of stress levels in adults throughout the UK revealed some interesting insights into the peak age for different stresses.
- In the 16-24 age group (which includes the majority of uni students), worries about relationships, social media and personal appearance were at their peak
- The 25-34 age group cited money as the leading cause of stress
The UK’s Most Stressful Career
The same study covered the career choices that cause the most stress to their employees. The top 10 on the list were as follows:
- HR: 79%
- Legal: 63%
- Retail, Catering & Leisure: 54%
- IT & Telecoms: 53%
- Healthcare: 52%
- Education: 51%
- Sales, Media & Marketing: 48%
- Architecture, Engineering & Building: 47%
- Finance: 46%
- Arts & Culture: 44%
This means that anxious students stepping into a stressful career will face further challenges around mental health.
Stress-Busting Tips for Students
As we mentioned, some students may turn to alcohol to help manage feelings of anxiety and depression, but a sustainable, healthy strategy is what’s needed to cope in the long term. Here are some more effective ways to manage stress and boost your mental and emotional wellbeing:
- Exercise: A walk, jog or session at the campus gym will get the blood pumping and endorphins flowing.
- Socialise: Spend some time in the uni common room, hang out with some classmates and get to know them, or join a society that interests you to make new connections.
- Listen to music: Put on some of your favourite tunes to give your mood an instant lift.
- Call home: Set up a phone call or Skype chat with your loved ones back home to catch up and help you feel more connected.
- Read: Put down the textbooks, step away from the screens and read a book or magazine you enjoy.
- Volunteer: Doing good feels good! Get involved with a local charity, soup kitchen or animal shelter.
- Me-time: Make sure you take some time every day to allow yourself to recharge. Whether it’s taking a hot shower, cooking a healthy meal or just spending some time outdoors, make time to look after yourself daily.
- Talk it out! Talk to your uni counsellor about how you’re feeling; they will understand and will have advice on how to cope and where to find the best support.
Of course, these tips can be helpful but sometimes they are not enough. For those struggling with mental health issues, it’s important to talk to someone about it and get professional help if needed. Therapy and medication can help you into a much more positive space.
Looking for Support?
If you’re struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety or isolation at uni, speak to your campus counsellor or reach out to a student support group. If you’d prefer to keep things anonymous, here are some useful resources for you.
Anxiety UK – Charity providing support for those diagnosed with an anxiety condition
Mental Health Foundation – Offers support and information to anyone with mental health problems
- Website: www.mentalhealth.org.uk
Depression Alliance – Charity for sufferers of depression
- Website: www.depressionalliance.org
No Panic – Charity supporting those affected by panic attacks and OCD
Papyrus – Young suicide prevention society
Samaritans – Support for those experiencing feelings of despair, distress or depression
YoungMinds – Information on child and adolescent mental health