Students fail to engage with university counselling services

By Derren Hayes, Tuesday 21 May 2013

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Students are failing to turn to university support and advice services for help with mental health problems, new research shows.

Educational psychologist

Only a small number of students turn to university counselling services. Picture: Becky Nixon

A survey of 1,200 students by the National Union of Students (NUS) has found that of those who reported experiencing symptoms of mental distress, just 17 per cent used counselling services provided by their university or student union.

The vast majority of students turn to friends (58 per cent) and family (45 per cent) to talk about mental health problems, but 64 per cent said they didn’t access any “formal” services for advice and support to discuss the issue, while 26 per cent didn’t talk to anyone about the problem.

The professional most students turned to for advice about mental health issues was their family or university GP (23 per cent), while nine per cent turned to private therapists.

Despite most students not accessing university support for mental health issues, the majority of respondents (58 per cent) were aware that such services existed.

NUS disabled students officer, Hannah Paterson said: “My primary concern is the fact that more than a quarter of those surveyed did not tell anyone about their problems. We are meeting with mental health organisations in a bid to examine the standard of mental health care in UK universities.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said the research demonstrated the scale of mental health issues experienced by students.

“Despite the high prevalence of mental health problems and stress among students, many people are not seeking help, perhaps because of the stigma that can surround mental health problems,” he added.

The survey, carried out in May, showed that eight per cent (109) reported having a mental health problem they were not seeking help for, two per cent (20) were in the process of seeking a diagnosis, while 10 per cent (134) had been diagnosed and thought the condition was ongoing.

A further six per cent (82) had been diagnosed with a mental health problem in the past but felt they had recovered, and two thirds of respondents said they had never been diagnosed with a problem.

The most common serious symptoms of mental distress experienced by respondents included anxiety (55 per cent), depression (49 per cent), panic attacks (38 per cent), paranoia (16 per cent), thoughts of self-harm (14 per cent) and suicidal thoughts (13 per cent).

Study pressures, relationship problems and financial difficulties were the most common contributing factors to mental distress.

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