Young people at university can face several challenges including financial worries, academic pressures, loneliness, and isolation.

For many, university may be the first experience of living away from friends or family and not having an established support network can make it even more difficult to cope with new challenges.

With mental health being talked about more now than ever, we wanted to explore the current support available for university students struggling in England. Responses, obtained via Freedom of Information requests, accounted for almost a million students, and showed that the number of students declaring a mental health condition has continued to rise.

On average, in 2021/22 6.6% of students declared a mental health condition to their university, a rise from 6.3% in 2020/21 and 6% in 2019/20.

The responses to this question varied significantly, with one university declaring only 0.8% of students, and another 22.5%. A number of universities were not able to supply this data, making it difficult for institutions to understand the breadth of need in their student population.

Our research also found that of this population, only just over half (57.7%) accessed support from their University in 2021/22.

Tom's Story

Tom is a final year engineering student at Loughborough University. 

“I had been struggling on my own for a few years, feeling low and thinking that I could deal with it on my own. When I reached rock bottom, I decided I had to try and find somewhere or someone to help me.  

The first time I came to the Crisis Café, I spent hours just talking and letting it all out. That was lifesaving for me, just being able to say it out loud”. 

“They helped me to set goals and I come back every week to talk about my progress and that gives me encouragement to keep working on my wellbeing.  

I really trust them and in the last few weeks I've met new people who are going through similar things.”

The types of support available varied dramatically between universities, with some offering a range of accessible options, and others only offering one type of support. Those offering only one type were typically counselling services, which whilst appropriate for some, can be time-bound and require an appointment and referral. In addition, some services were only available to students with a mental health diagnosis.

Through delivering Crisis Cafes at universities in Leicestershire, as well as in university towns across the country, we have seen first-hand how accessible services offer a lifeline to students who don’t know where to turn. The non-clinical services offer well-being, emotional, social and practical support as well as signposting to other community services.

“We see a lot of students from the university. One of the most common things they talk to us about is feeling like they’re not good enough. We hear from students who feel overwhelmed, like they’re not good enough to be at university, or feel that they’re not capable of fulfilling their potential after university.

For many of them, talking about that is helpful”.

Simon Kingsman, Team Manager, Crisis Service in Exeter

This University Mental Health Day, we want to highlight the challenges that university students face and raise awareness of the need to invest in accessible services that give students an option to talk to someone without an appointment, referral, or diagnosis.

Read more about how our Crisis Cafes have helped students to cope with the challenges of university.