Despite A-level results improving steadily since the 1990s there has been a surge in reported levels of student mental distress at UK universities, often resulting from academic pressures. (1) How can it be that students are leaving school with higher grades than ever, yet are struggling more at university, with knock on effects on their mental health?
One factor may be the phenomenon of ‘spoon-feeding’.
What is spoon-feeding?
Growing up, I've always felt like an anomaly - but not someone who stuck out, more like someone blurred in between the lines. I was surrounded by people who looked similar to me, sure, but that made it worse. I would compare myself, with people that were going on completely different paths, playing a game that I wouldn't win. That wasn't enough to discourage my thoughts, though. I was too quiet to stand out, maybe because the noise in my head was enough to silence my voice. I wouldn't make too much of it, I often dismissed my feelings. I took everything on the chin and brushed it off because "everyone felt like this" and "everyone struggled, so it's not a big deal". Toxic right?
The COVID-19 outbreak has severely impacted students’ mental health. This is the conclusion of a nationwide survey conducted by Lucian Milasan and Ed Griffin – Lecturers in Mental Health at De Montfort University. They explored experiences of psychological distress and its impact on academic performance, along with students’ perception of the support received during the COVID-19 pandemic.
People say that university is where you find yourself, where you finally say goodbye to your inner child and begin building the adult within you. But it’s not...
It is understood that physical activity and the natural environment is beneficial for mental health and well-being. I am researching the role of blue exercise (exercise conducted in a natural setting which is predominantly blue space e.g. coastlines, rivers) on young people’s (aged 11-16) well-being. For both conceptual and methodological reasons, there is not a valid or accessible measure of young people’s well-being for me to use to assess the relationship between blue exercise and well-being. I am therefore in the midst of developing and validating my own measure of young people’s well-being. Once developed I will be conducting an intervention study with the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation to investigate whether participation in their sailing courses improves the well-being of young people over the course of at least 1 month.
Academic staff and those in personal tutoring roles are often at the frontline of supporting students’ mental health. Positive support from academic staff has been found to facilitate academic and social integration for students, as well as improving students’ beliefs about their academic abilities. Importantly, poor personal tutoring from academic staff is actually worse than providing no tutoring at all (Yale, 2017).
A recent survey by educations.com reveals that 60% of prospective students deem a university’s mental health services to be a very important factor when deciding where to study. A striking finding is that half of these students did not consider this to be a very important factor before the Covid-19 pandemic (1).
University students are a high-risk group for mental health problems, given that most cases of mental health problems have emerged by the age of 24 (Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Jin, Merikangas, & Walters, 2005; see also Kim-Cohen, Caspi, Moffitt, Harrington, Milne, & Poulton, 2003) and some research suggests that the prevalence of these problems is increasing (Institute for Public Policy and Research [IPPR], 2017).
There’s a lot of focus on the mental health risks for widening participation students. That’s what I’m researching, on behalf of Health Action Campaign. I’d welcome feedback on this from fellow researchers.
Whilst the academic landscape is undoubtedly changing, evidence still suggests that research remains a highly competitive, strenuous and lonely profession. According to Nature, a 2019 study revealed that “more than one-third of respondents (36%) said that they have sought help for anxiety or depression caused by their PhD studies”, a third of which sought this help from places other than their own institution.
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