Could it be that university is bad for your mental health? Statistics show that there has been an increase in the number of students seeking counselling, and it could be that the cost of tuition is at least partly to blame. A 28% increase in the number of students seeking mental health support coincided with the increasing of tuition fees to £9,000 per year.
The figures took statistics from students at Russell Group universities, and found that 43,000 students had counselling in the 2014-15 academic year, compared to 34,000 just three years earlier. This increase in the number of students seeking counselling was heightened even further at some institutions, including the University of Leeds which saw a 57% rise, and Cardiff which saw a jump of 72%. Even Oxford university was not immune to the rise of mental health issues among their students, with a reported rise of 43% over the same three-year period.
Of course, it could be argued that this growth in the number of students seeking support for mental health issues is not linked to the increase in tuition fees, but experts feel this is unlikely.
Stephen Buckley from the mental health charity Mind said, “Today’s students face an unprecedented financial burden with student loan and tuition fee debt higher than ever before,” adding, “On the other side of this is the financial stress and uncertainty around employment on graduation. Both of these are major contributors to mental health problems like anxiety and depression.”
Poverty has long been recognised as a strong factor in mental health problems. A 2013 study across 23 countries found that the socioeconomically disadvantaged were 2 to 3 times more likely to develop mental health problems. While an improvement in conditions saw a reduction in mental health issues, are young people being pushed towards mental health problems by the financial burden and constraints of university education? While there is plenty of great money-saving advice to help young people it may not be enough to really turn the tide.
The National Union of Students have called for universities to react to the situation, with Shelly Asquith, NUS vice-president for welfare, saying, “The evidence is clear. The marketisation of education is having a huge impact on students’ mental health. The value of education has moved away from societal value to ‘value for money’ and the emphasis on students competing against each other is causing isolation, stress and anxiety.”
Elsewhere, a clinical psychologist, Dr Thomas Richardson, asserted, “Research has shown that financial difficulties such as being unable to pay the bills has an impact on mental health in students. There is also some evidence of a vicious cycle whereby financial difficulties exacerbate mental health problems, and these mental health difficulties can then make managing a budget harder still.”
Of course, this is something that the universities say they are taking seriously as they offer counselling services to support their students. However, with no sign of tuition fees coming down, and the removal of the maintenance grant in favour of a loan, it seems that young people now need to think about how the cost of a university education may impact their mental health as much as their career goals. Indeed, when it comes to careers it is worth considering whether your degree course will actually lead to a job in a related field.
There is no escaping the fact that the statistics paint a worrying picture, and some sources say that the situation may be worse than the numbers of students seeking counselling show. An NUS survey conducted last winter said that nearly eight out of ten students (78%) admitted to having experienced mental health issues over the last year.
It is little wonder that so many young people are wondering whether university is worth the cost, and now that mental health has been added to the list, perhaps it is time to ask when enough is enough? Of course, there are other routes into a great career – you might want to consider searching and applying for an apprenticeship for example?