Rising numbers of stressed students seek help
- Kamran Mofid
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Today I have the grim task of sounding an alarm about the spread of an illness that is rapidly becoming the pandemic disease of the 21st century:
An epidemic of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide amongst the children, the youth and students world-wide. This tragedy is global and need a global solution
Rising numbers of stressed students seek help
This was the heading of an article by Sean Coughlan, Education correspondent of the BBC, published on 30 September 2015 on the BBC website.
Sean has drawn our attention to the fact that there are warnings of rising numbers of students struggling to cope with life on campus, with sharp rises in the demand for counselling.
And there are questions about whether universities are providing enough support for emotional and mental health problems.
Let me provide you with a few excerpts from Sean’s timely article:
According to Sir Anthony Seldon-vice chancellor of BuckinghamUniversity- this is a "massive problem" and universities have been "negligent" in accepting their pastoral responsibilities.
"Universities are not always honest about admitting the extent of the problems they have. They need to change; they need to take their responsibilities to students far more carefully."
And he says universities have much catching up to do on student well-being.
Sir Anthony warns some universities might see their status in terms of research and league tables, with the danger they view undergraduates as an "inconvenience".
But he says they cannot ignore the rising incidence of problems such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
"Universities, with some exceptions, haven't been fully owning up to the extent of the malaise among young people. Or understanding what can be done to ameliorate these problems."
"I don't think universities mean to be negligent. But if not deliberately, they are being negligent; they are not accepting their responsibility for these young people. And needless avoidable problems are occurring all the way up to suicide."
Moreover, Ruth Caleb, chair of Universities UK's mental well-being working group, says counselling services are facing an annual rise in demand of about 10%.
She estimates the use of counselling usually ranges between 5% and 10% of students, depending on the university, which would suggest at least 115,000 students are seeking help.
And a report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, using anonymised data, found a rapid increase in demand for counselling, with one institution seeing an annual increase of more than 50%.
This analysis, published before the new term, showed mental health problems on campus had "increased dramatically" in recent years, rising from about 8,000 to 18,000 in the four years to 2012-13.
The study also warned students want help with more serious problems. Instead of homesickness or relationships, they are increasingly suffering from "anxiety, depression or low mood. Additionally, increasing numbers of students are at high risk of harming themselves".
The University of Reading says there has been a 20% year-on-year increase in students wanting help from counsellors.
The university's head of well-being, Alicia Pena Bizama, says students feel under more pressure.
As well as perennial problems of loneliness and relationships, she says there are worries about the rising cost of studying, fear of failing to live up to expectations and uncertainties about job prospects.
"There is a cultural change in being a student," says Dr Caleb, who is head of counselling at BrunelUniversity.
Instead of a stereotype of student life being about long lazy days, she says increasing numbers experience anxiety and stress, beyond the "transitional" problems of leaving home.
Student life is also affected by wider social changes. Dr Caleb says there is a pattern of parents splitting up when their child goes to university and sometimes selling the family home, which can leave young people feeling vulnerable and unsupported.
But what is so different now about young people's lives? Is there really such a culture of anxiety?
Meredith Leston, a student at St Anne's College, Oxford, suffered from anorexia and depression in her first year.
"People talk about 'snapping' and that is what happened to me. I just couldn't take the pressure and the whole new realm of expectations."
She says part of the problem is the ever-present role of social media, fuelling a culture of constant comparison and a sense of inadequacy.
"As well as being a first class student, you have to be a first class person, you have to be performing socially, academically. It's a nightmare. You're constantly on."
'Suffering in silence'
Ms Leston says she received help from her university, but she is worried about the patchy provision for some students.
"I do worry that a lot of students are suffering in silence at the moment."
"I think there is a very strong stigma still surrounding mental health issues, but even in the few years I've been at university, I've seen a slow change, people are beginning to talk about it."
The increase in tuition fees has also changed students' expectations.
Universities are now competing on the quality of their services as well as academic prowess. And students expect to have support for emotional problems.
Three student protests and occupations this year have called for better counselling services.
"The factors that really drive it are financial stress; university education has become more expensive. And job prospects are more uncertain, so they're not sure whether it's going to pay off," notes Dr. Marina Della Giusta of the University of Reading.
The other constant thorn is the expectation to be seen to be having a good time, with social media turning social lives into a place of competition rather than relaxation.
"There's no point turning out students who have a first if they are going to be unhappy and unable to function as human beings out there in the workplace support students with mental health problems.”
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And now, most importantly, the question should be: What is to be done? How we may all come together, young and old, and address this global concern with its tragic consequences?
I firmly believe that all our universities, all over the world, should consider teaching the art of happiness to their students:
They should teach their students the difference between being ambitious and aspiring to succeed and being driven and consequently burnt by the rat race:
They should do all they can to reconnect their students with the wisest teacher, namely, the nature:
And my final wish:
Youth Mental Health Matters:
There are 1.2 Billion Youth Aged 15-24 Years in the World
"Youth and Mental Health": The shocking statistic is that 1 in 5 young people suffer from mental illness. Many more suffer from mild depression and loneliness. This is a plea to all youth workers, social/health-care workers, academics, teachers, the youth themselves, parents, schools, colleges, universities, civil societies dealing with youth, politicians, media, business community, religious and spiritual leaders, all the people of good will: Make 2015 a year where you purposefully ensure that a permanent, safe, creative space is made available for all young people to speak their heart, anxiety, worries, hopes and dreams. Let us all become a vehicle of hope and ensure young people are transformed into responsible global citizens, having overcome any disadvantages that they might have faced in the past. This is a true Common Good Vision.
To Change the world for the better, to live a better life, happier and more content requires a different set of values. This is why I wish to extend a very warm welcome to you all, to consider coming to our 2016 Conference, which will be hosted at the beautiful and inspiring Waterperry House and Gardens near Oxford, where you can also meet the 4th GCGI Award recipient for Public Service in the Interest of the Common Good, Dr. Anthony Seldon.
For conference details please see: