Today’s IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research)report into students and mental health states that rising prevalence of mental health issues means university counselling services are coming under even more strain.

The results from a new survey of 58 UK higher education providers show 94% have experienced an increase in demand for counselling services over the past 5 years, while 61% have seen demand increase by over 25%. It also finds that, in some universities, up to 1 in 4 students are using, or waiting to use, counselling services.

BACP has held a long commitment to support all students studying in further and higher education, and is particularly mindful of the significant number of students who experience mental health difficulties during their studies; it has a specialist Division, BACP: Universities and Colleges.

University students experience the psychological and developmental needs common to the wider population. However, this, coupled with the need to adapt to a new environment without the usual social supports, the demands of their courses and added financial pressures, plus peer pressure to misuse drugs and alcohol, means many students will experience psychological distress sufficient enough to impact on their studies. Additionally, international students often have to adapt to a new culture, or study in a second or third language.

Left unsupported, psychological distress and mental health problems can lead to students dropping out of university or failing to reach their full academic or personal potential, or lead to more long-term effects on self-esteem, future life-chances and on-going mental health issues through their lives.

In a context where students need to attend lectures, meet assignment and exam deadlines and, for many, hold down additional employment, it is important that counselling is provided promptly to address problems in a timely manner.

Andrew Reeves, Chair of BACP, who worked for many years in a higher education context, said:

“Properly resourced counselling in universities can provide accessible, timely, specialist support to distressed students, helping them to continue with, and successfully complete their studies, as well as cope with the specific pressures of university life and common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

“A service provided within the university setting provides an easy to access, familiar and less stigmatising environment in which to receive mental health support; and so is more likely than traditional NHS-based services to be used by, and be useful to, a student population.

“Waiting times for assessment and beginning therapy in university and college counselling services are also generally better than primary care mental health services.

“With NHS IAPT support services already oversubscribed and students facing increased emotional and psychological pressures, university-based counselling services are required more than ever.”

Note to editors

Read the full IPPR report here