Too Much Pressure? A Look at the Rise in Mental Health Issues Among Students

Higher Education Statistics Agency figures have shown a 132% increase in the number of higher education students in England declaring mental health problems.The figures show a rise in 2012-2013 of 18,0000 as compared to less than 8,000 in 2008-9. The figures were compiled by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, who even noted that the more selective institutions had an even larger increase – with 157% more students claiming mental health issues, as compared to those with lower entry requirements, who returned a 107% increase. With an apparent correlation between pressure to succeed (as shown by these more selective institutions) and mental health issues, the question has ot be asked – is the pressure of a university education bad for your mental health?Many will point to not just the pressure to succeed academically, but also the increasing financial pressures faced by many students as a possible cause for the increase in mental health issues. However, we must be cautious before we throw such assertions around, as a study from the Institute for Employment Studies and Lancaster University, which showed that there seemed to be an improved culture among students around recognising an admitting to mental health issues.Others have said that there may be other factors, aside from improved diagnosis, including an increase in courses that attract a higher number of students with conditions like autism, such as computer game-related courses.However, for all of these factors, research did uncover a link between increased anxiety and higher tuition fees. Competition among students in the job market was also seen to be a factor, with many students feeling pressure to succeed in order to land a good job or please their parents.The research also found that this pressure was felt more keenly at the more ‘selective’ institutions, with the report noting how, “Pressure to succeed was said to be particularly exacerbated at some more selective institutions in recent times.”While increased pressure, both academic and financial has a part to play, it would be too much to say that these factors alone are to blame for the apparent increase in mental health problems among students. However, there is a darker side to these findings too, as some fear universities may feel forced to choose between those students who need support and those who don’t as funding gets tighter.Government plans to cut Disabled Students’ Allowance has led some university employees to go as far as to claim they may be forced to reject applications from disabled students rather than take up the cost themselves. Others fear this may, in turn, dissuade students from disclosing a disability or illness.While the conclusions vary, the statistics show that support is clearly needed among an increasing number of students. Could it be that, between financial worries, academic achievement, and competition for jobs after graduation, we are putting our students under too much pressure?

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