This University Mental Health Day, we’re highlighting the need for investment in embedded counselling services at universities, and emphasising the important role and skills of counsellors who provide these services.

Our latest Mindometer survey of our members found that more than one in three therapists (34%) reported an increase in the number of enquiries/referrals from students in further and higher education.

The survey also found:

  • 64% of therapists working with students reported on an increase in students presenting with depression
  • Two thirds (66%) of therapists working with students reported on an increase in students presenting with generalised anxiety.
  • Nearly two thirds (65%) of therapists working with students reported on an increase in students presenting with ADHD

Students face a number of changes and challenges in their lives – whether that’s being away from their home and family for the first time, understanding their own identity, balancing studies and work, or coping with their financial situation.

While many students cope well and thrive in their university lives, some will need additional professional support. 

Organised by Student Minds and University Mental Health Advisory Network (UMHAN), University Mental Health Day takes place on Thursday 14 March and aims to get the nation talking about student mental health and working together to make mental health a university-wide priority. 

Choice and access

This year, we’re emphasising the importance of universities and colleges investing in employing qualified and registered counsellors and psychotherapists to ensure there is choice and access to therapy for students.

Jane Harris, is Chair of our Heads of University Counselling Services group, and also Co-Director of Student Welfare and Support Services and Head of Counselling at the University of Oxford.

She said: “We’ve been seeing year-on-year increases in students approaching University Counselling and Mental Health services for psychological support for over two decades in the UK.

“Behind these statistics is a complicated matrix of economic, cultural, political, societal, environmental and medical factors expressed through an infinite and unique array of individual, relational and social stories.

“In some instances complex loss and trauma profiles lead to prolonged clinical severity of symptoms, which can mean students struggle to function day to day.  Others approach counselling experiencing a confusing mix of panic, fear, insecurity and isolation, often a response to navigation multiple sudden life changes without familiar support networks.

Untangle the threads

“Experienced, skilled and robust counsellors can untangle the threads and guide the most helpful course of action in both instances. Sometimes this is an explicit ‘mental health’ intervention, sometimes the task is weighted to broader insight based personal developmental, itself protective of good mental health. Either way, the evidence is clear that counselling and psychotherapy are making a significant contribution to the health and success of our university communities and we celebrate the increasing recognition of this and linked investment made to date by universities and the Office for Students.

“The Mindometer results are a timely reminder of the ongoing increase in demand, the value and impact of embedded counselling services and that investment in the psychological security of our students is an investment in our collective future.”

Louise Knowles is Chair of BACP’s University and Colleges Division and Head of the Mental Health, Counselling and Therapy Service at the University of Sheffield.

She said: “BACP counsellors working within higher education in-house counselling services are well-trained to offer a caring and meaningful relationship to struggling students.  It’s within this confidential and trusting relationship that students have space to reflect and grow into independent and autonomous learners.  We know, from our own research findings, that students attending these counselling services are more likely to stay engaged in their studies and flourish. 

“For more than a decade, higher education institutions have seen an increase in both demand for counselling services and an increase in the complexity of the issues students need.  This is widely evidenced across the sector and in line with the trends from the Mindometer.

“Given the continued rise in demand and complexity, it’s critical that colleges and universities continue to invest in high quality services.  These staff have the skills, expertise, knowledge and understanding to meet the psychological needs of individual students. They also are well placed to support and advise staff and, where appropriate to work effectively with other services including NHS mental health provision.”