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The Declining State of University Students’ Mental Health

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    March 21, 2023

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Entering and returning to university can be a very exciting time for many. It’s a chance to create lasting memories and is commonly a period of exploration and self-development. That said, this transition can be intimidating, and managing the varying demands that university entails can be quite a significant challenge.

The Rise of University Student Mental Health Concerns

There has been a tremendous surge in demand for counselling centres in the past few years. A variety of factors have contributed to this increase, with a few of them being positive. Even before the pandemic, universities had to cope with a rise in the need for support which far surpassed available capacity, highlighting that conventional counselling centres often lack the adequate tools to solve such challenges. And by nearly every metric, university student mental health only appears to be declining.

Results from the Healthy Minds Study, which analysed data from 373 campuses across the country, showed that in the 2020-2021 school year, more than 60% of college students suffered from at least one mental health disorder. Another national survey showed that almost three-quarters of students had significant psychological issues.

Students’ Mental Health Challenges Extend Far Beyond the Classroom

Students face unique pressures when transitioning into a new environment. At the same time, heavy academic workloads present a unique set of challenges, contributing to an overall sense of stress and uncertainty.

Many university students will experience varying levels of stress and pressure throughout school. Quizlet, the world's most popular learning platform, recently teamed up with YouGov to conduct a survey. The survey results revealed a worrying disconnect between what parents think and what students feel surrounding the connection between exams and student mental health. When YouGov asked if exams had a detrimental impact on student mental health, only 40% of parents agreed. However, a concerning 89% of students claimed that the impact of exams had a considerable adverse effect on their mental health.

Julie Webb, Senior Counsellor from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), one of SilverCloud® by Amwell®’s higher education customers, said about the importance of mental health for students & staff:

“Mental health is important for all people and is perhaps especially demanding in large HE organisations such as ARU.  Working and studying in HE means that there are constant cycles of pressured activities and deadlines within the academic calendar and its framework, often in intense short bursts and often requiring speedy and efficient responses from many directions.  Taking care of our emotional wellbeing helps to develop a sense of resilience and improve our capacity for empathic, compassionate and ethical living.”

Case Study: Trinity College Dublin


Common Stressors Impacting University Students

Stress uniquely impacts everyone, and students respond to stress in varying ways. And although research indicates that a moderate amount of stress can motivate students to do well, too much stress can ultimately negatively impact their overall wellness.

Not only did the onset of COVID-19 completely alter the regularity students had come to know and depend on, but there are a variety of other stressors that students continue to face. Here are some common stressors that university students face:

  • Balancing the demands of work and school
  • Examinations and deadlines
  • Poor time management
  • Financial challenges
  • Difficulties with personal relationships
  • Insufficient sleep
  • Challenges connecting with others
  • Overscheduling
  • Parental pressure


"University settings are a hotbed of learning, achieving, creating, socialising and supporting” said Julie Webb. “ It is a place where students can often find themselves in a complex hub of activities, not just academic study, but also working, making new friends, learning how to be part of groups, being challenged to participate in wider communities, perhaps leaving home for the first time and learning how to be independent.  Improving self-awareness and tending to our needs as we become aware of them can contribute to an enriching experience.”

How to Recognise the Declining State of University Students’ Mental Health

Chronic stress can lead to poor academic achievement, increase the likelihood of dropping out of school, and diminish motivation. Even further, ongoing stress often presents itself in various mental health challenges, sometimes with severe consequences.

Therefore, both students and educators must recognise what the triggers are and what they can do to manage everyday school stress. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • Socially withdrawing and becoming more isolated
  • Disengaging from school extracurricular activities and commitments
  • Challenges with concentration and motivation
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Indulging in addictive or risky behaviours
  • Irritability or low mood
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Physical symptoms such as digestive issues, headaches, physical pain and more


Steps Towards Collaborative Care: Adopting a Holistic Approach to Student Mental Health

Due to increasing university student mental health challenges, educators must continue to innovate creative strategies to offer assistance. These strategies range from group therapy, peer counselling, and telehealth to teaching faculty and staff to recognise signs of distress and react appropriately when an emergency arises. Moreover, universities must work to have an ongoing effort to instill a culture of wellness into the various policies, structures, and overall atmosphere of educational institutions.

Universities like ARU offer Counselling & Wellbeing Services to its staff and student population.

“Provision includes wellbeing check-ins and online psychological support; counselling; mental health advising; coaching; wellbeing workshops covering a wide range of topics; and reflective practice groups” said Julie Webb. “The university has wellbeing champions, peer wellbeing mentors; specialist advocates and buddy schemes. Increasing awareness about the value and importance of mental health is an organisation-wide conversation which punctuates all activities within the university.  Teams and departments collaborate to provide the best support possible in an ever-changing landscape that is the world of academia: a place of transient body/minds in a constant state of development and change.”

Education providers worldwide utilise the SilverCloud® by Amwell® platform to deliver digital and on-demand mental health and wellbeing programmes. We offer an evidence-based, measurable, impactful and modern way to invest in students' health, wellbeing and happiness, delivering results as effective as face-to-face therapy at a fraction of the cost. Learn more about the SilverCloud® platform for higher education here.

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