We spoke to 50 students from universities across the globe to understand how we can best support them in the run up to the holiday season.
The holiday season can be a difficult time for many and students are no exception. In fact, recent research undertaken by Gunnell et al, 2019 suggests that students are at highest risk of suicide in January, just following the Christmas break when students are returning to university. This is especially interesting as festive periods have often been considered protective periods for mental health with spring commonly thought of as the highest risk time of year across the general population according to research.
The Christmas period can be particularly tough on mental health with difficult family relationships thrown into the spotlight, high levels of alcohol and food, breaks in routine and an expectation to be having a great time. This coupled with upcoming exams periods and academic pressures can create a perfect storm for some students.
We know that mental health services and support are especially critical over the coming months. With this in mind we spoke to 50 students, all from different universities, who were currently struggling with their mental health. We asked them about their support seeking behaviour at university and beyond and how they feel most comfortable connecting with services with a view to understanding how we could best offer support.
The Student Experience
The students we spoke to were struggling with a range of issues however 79% reported battling with depression, 68% stress, 66% low self esteem, 62% Loneliness, 62% sleep problems and 57% anxiety. Just under half (47%) of students disclosed that they struggled with suicidal feelings.
We have an extremely high suicide rate here (this year alone we’ve had 5 suicides, and it’s not even finals). (Student)
The majority of students (82%) said that their university was unaware that they were battling mental health issues. Those who had spoken to their university about their mental health were divided on how comfortable they had felt to do this and how easy this process was. Those who found it hard to disclose told us that anxiety, fear of judgement and not wanting to share that information with the university were the main reasons for feeling this way.
Does your university know that you are battling with your mental health?
I think uni is not a safe place when it comes to sharing about mental health. People tend to judge you. Even if there’d be anything genuine regarding mental health in uni, i still prefer to keep it to myself and people close to me. I don’t feel safe enough. (Student)
There is an incredibly long waiting list that makes it inaccessible. (Student)
I know they have a free service but it’s hard to set a date. They have another service (which is paid) but you can only join in certain dates so, if you need inmediate help, you have to wait.
They have a call service, which is available 24/7. That’s great but not so helpful when you have struggles that are hard to talk through a call. (Student)
Over half of students 62% told us that they would prefer university mental health support to predominantley be face-to-face followed by app based services (23%). 13% of students felt comfortable speaking on the phone to access support and 2% had a preference for support via a website.
None of the students we spoke to had the option for out of hours care at their university and told us they had nowhere to go at their university when they were struggling at night, weekends or over the holidays. A further 87% said that their university did not provide mental health support when they were off campus either studying in a different location or outside of term time.
We asked students where they generally go to get mental health support. Almost half (47%) of students accessed support via mental health support apps and 38% turned to friends, family and teachers. 20% were in touch with professional medical support and a further 18% were having counselling /talking therapy. 7% found support in religion. Charities had a much lower uptake with just 2% usage. University services were also used by 2% of students. Where do you go for support with your mental health?
What does this mean for support services?
Whilst these findings cannot be extrapolated to the wider student populations they do raise some interesting discussion point. There is a clear need for support for students who are struggling with their mental health and a clear existence of inconsistency between universities in how and to what extent they offer this.
The following themes emerged from our conversations:
Students don’t feel always feel comfortable telling their university that they are struggling with their mental health, often because they are unsure what might happen as a result. We need to find ways to build trust and increase understanding of what support services can offer.
Students need places to get support all year round 24/7 that is available on and off campus.
Students don’t always feel comfortable talking to their university about their mental health, fear of consequences and anxiety about how they might be treated seem to be prevalent. Equally, long waiting times can be difficult for students who feel that they need instant support.
Students benefit from a range of support options so that they can choose a way of seeking support that feels comfortable and familiar to them and is relevant to their current struggles.
TalkCampus is a world first global peer support community for students using state of the art machine learning classifiers combined with the power of social connection to offer instant, ongoing support and escalation round the clock. Read more about how TalkCampus could support you here.