One in five students in years two and three in the UK say they have no a "true friend" in college, according to a survey of more than 12,000 students nationwide.
The finding has renewed fears that students are battling loneliness and declining mental health.
About 42% of students have experienced suicidal thoughts at some point, the survey reveals. Of these, 24%, which is equivalent to more than one in ten of all students, say that their thoughts became suicidal for the first time during college; and 16% say they have had the need to hurt themselves or themselves in the last 12 months.
The survey, conducted by student market research consultancy Cibyl for Accenture during the COVID-19 pandemic, found that social restrictions and other impacts of the pandemic continue, more than half (55%) of students say they are they feel lonely every day or every week and 45% say they have been avoiding socializing in person or online with others.
The isolation that students currently feel appears to be contributing significantly to deteriorating mental health, says the Accenture report.
Four out of 10 students (39%) report deterioration in their mental health since starting college, and more than half (53%) have experienced at least seven symptoms of poor mental health in the past year.
Dasha Karzunina, head of research at Cibyl, said: "It is clear that feeling connected and supported has a significant impact on the mental well-being of students."
Different Mental Health Experiences
The survey report also reveals that students from different backgrounds have different experiences when it comes to mental health. Those with longer-term or more severe mental health problems are much more likely to have their mental health deteriorate further in college (58%), followed by neurodiverse students (49%), those with disabilities (45 %) and women (43%). and LGBTQ students (42%).
Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds show higher rates of having suicidal thoughts (47%). About 67% of LGBQ students and 81% of transgender students will have had these thoughts at some point in their lives, according to the report.
Ben West, a recent graduate, said: “No student should have to pay for a degree with his life. This report sheds vital light on the areas that universities need to improve to better support all students, many of whom have spent the past year feeling forgotten and ignored.
"I really hope that universities and government will take the findings and recommendations in this report into account and act to improve the industry and help the people whose lives depend on this change."
The survey was conducted online between October 2020 and December 2020 and was completed by 12,014 students from 140 universities.
Barbara Harvey, Managing Director and Mental Health Sponsor for Accenture UK, said: “College is a formative part of many young people's lives and can be a great leveler when it comes to the career opportunities open to students of all. the origins.
"However, our research reveals that despite the resources and support services that universities provide, college is not a dream experience for everyone and there is a significant disconnect between the experiences of different students."
Karzunina said: “Universities are well positioned to create a healthier culture and improve the resilience of their students. We hope that the findings and recommendations in this report will inspire action by both universities and employers to better understand, educate, and support their students and graduates, and continue the mental health conversations to address stigma head-on. "
Pandemics, preparedness and pressure
Unsurprisingly, the report says, COVID-19 has played a significant role in the erosion of student well-being, and 80 % say it has contributed to their poor mental health. However, students' poor mental health preceded the pandemic, with only 13% of students fully attributing their mental health problems to COVID-19.
Preparing for the college experience is a stumbling block when it comes to mental health – only one in 10 students say they feel fully prepared for the reality of college life, and those who do less prepared are more likely to report mental health problems (44% vs. 32%). Perhaps most significantly, they were 1.6 times more likely to see their mental health decline since college (54% vs. 33%).
Worryingly, Harvey noted in the foreword to the report that half of the students "did not feel that their mental health was supported in college and many were reluctant or unable to access the care they need."
Making Mental Health Important
Actually, most universities offer, either directly, through the National Health Service or through other organizations, a variety of support from general practitioners (directed) to dedicated mental health centers and crisis services, such as the Nightline phone service, which are run by the students themselves.
The report says that universities are well aware of the need to provide mental health support, and virtually all do. But research reveals that the majority of students are not using the services offered, and 60% of respondents who have a mental health problem say they are not accessing any support provided.
When asked why they did not seek mental health support in college, four in 10 (42%) said it was simply a case of not knowing what to say or how to express their feelings.
The data showed that this uncertainty is particularly high among African-Caribbean students abroad; among this group, 34% are unsure how to describe their mental health.
Also, it wasn't just mental health services that students weren't opening up to. Although the majority speak with family or friends, only 11% speak with university support staff and 9% with academic staff. Significantly, 17% do not speak to anyone, increasing to 32% of men and 20% of ethnic minority students.
Most effective services
The report says that mentors and friends top the list when it comes to the effectiveness of the service (80% of users rate them as effective), surpassing services more traditional (and more popular) as GPs (61% effective) and wellness support services (63% effective).
Mental health counselors and stress management workshops were rated as the second and third most effective services (72% and 71% effective, respectively).
Students who saw their university as one that supported good mental health in general (as well as during the pandemic) and who knew how to access help were almost three times less likely to say that their mental health had worsened since they started there. says the report.
He says the introduction of a mental health charter between colleges has been an important first step. And developing an unbiased standard against which universities can be evaluated and held accountable “would go a long way to make the effectiveness of mental health services and the culture of these institutions more transparent and ultimately better suited to their needs. purpose ”
Framework for action on mental health
The report highlights that the experience and the voice of the student "must be at the center of all action".
To address the research findings, Accenture has proposed a framework for universities to help address student mental health and well-being:
• Learn : Understand the Risk Profile mental health outcomes of their students even before they begin and proactively target interventions.
• Support : Provide the right level of support, making it easy and natural to access. Offer multiple channels to allow students to choose the appropriate approach for them.
• Teach : Educate students on what good mental health is, how to maintain it, the value of seeking help early, and how to support themselves and others.
• Connect : Help students adjust to college life, forge meaningful friendships, and reduce loneliness: there is a strong correlation between feeling connected and well-being.
• Culture : University rectors must adopt the principles enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath: "Do no harm" and "Prevention is better than cure".
Harvey said: 'With almost half of the UK's youth now entering higher education, and this year's cohort doing so after 18 months of interrupted learning and social life, universities must both improve health support technology human mind that is offered for those who need it. "