This week, many young people across the UK will be starting, or returning, to university for the 2021/22 academic year.
Following an incredibly turbulent 18 months, where young people’s lives have been upended by the Covid-19 pandemic, we have published a new report exploring the key mental health challenges students have faced in 2021, how they are feeling about the new academic year and what support they would like from their university.
I ended up getting very overwhelmed about going into lockdown again, feeling lonely, trapped and very stressed over getting university work done for my final year. I managed to get the support I needed [from Shout]. Thank you for your help.
So far in 2021, Shout has taken around 78,000 conversations with 27,600 students in higher education from every nation and region in the UK.
Here’s what we found through our data analysis of anonymised conversations with students, insight and expertise into the student experience from our team of clinicians, testimony from our Shout Volunteers, feedback from student texters and commentary from student mental health experts:
- So far in 2021, the main issues students have texted Shout to discuss have been anxiety (40% of conversations), depression (33%) and suicidal ideation (28%), followed by relationships (25%), loneliness (17%), self-harm (12%) and Covid-19 (6%)
- Students seek support round the clock; 75% of students text Shout outside of the hours of 9am-5pm, with 10pm-12pm being the busiest time accounting for 20% of all conversations with students
- Looking ahead, 61% of students told us they were worried about the new 2021/22 academic year, with their main concerns being loneliness (74%), relationships (72%), workload (65%) and finances (52%)
- Students are also worried about the future impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with anxieties around further restrictions (30%) and disruption to in-person teaching (27%) featuring heavily
- Three-quarters of students want their university to provide text message mental health support
Shout 85258 appeals particularly to the student population. Not only is text a preferred means of communication for students, but the service is free, confidential and anonymous. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, suiting students’ round-the-clock lifestyles. It is also a silent way to communicate, providing students who live in shared accommodation with privacy when seeking support.
Thank you for being a source of comfort and validation this evening at a time when I felt very overwhelmed emotionally.
Through our report, we want to help university leaders and policy makers understand students’ mental health needs in real time, get ahead of these issues at the start of the new academic year and target resources where they are needed most.
Victoria Hornby, CEO of Mental Health Innovations which powers Shout 85258, said:
“Large numbers of students are coming to Shout around the clock, seven days a week for support with a range of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and loneliness. This puts us in a unique position to be able to inform university leaders and policy makers about the challenges students are facing in real time and the services students need right now to better support their mental health. Scaling up digital mental health services will be key to providing students with the mental health support they need, when they need it, enabling them to flourish at university and beyond. We must ensure that no student falls through the cracks.”
Ben West, student mental health campaigner who lost his brother to suicide, said:
“Arriving at university in a normal year is scary. For many people it will be the first time they've lived away from home, they're in a new city, they don't know anyone and the challenge of getting a degree looms over them. Joining university during the Covid-19 pandemic and being forced to isolate in your room and attend online lectures, while necessary given the circumstances, was exceptionally challenging for many students. The isolation that online teaching and limited opportunities to socialise caused, undoubtedly had an effect on students’ mental health.
“We must make it a priority to learn from the pandemic and focus on creating innovative ways of providing students with both the support to allow them to thrive in their studies but also mechanisms to better identify, intervene and support those who are at risk of harm.”
Dr Radha Modgil, NHS GP, broadcaster and campaigner for wellbeing, said:
“If you’re a student and you're feeling overwhelmed or low, know that you are not alone and that you more than deserve support. It can be a scary thing to do, but the first step is telling someone how you feel. Try talking to a close friend, someone in your family, your GP or someone in confidence who is trained to help, like a Shout Volunteer. Taking this first step will enable you to start making sense of how you are feeling and help you to understand about the kind of support that can help. You’re all incredible, you’re all doing an amazing job and you’ve all come through so many challenges already. Keep supporting each other this year and remember that help, any time of the day or night, is only a text message away.”
Dr Dominique Thompson, award-winning GP, young people’s mental health expert and author of How to Grow a Grown Up (Vermilion) said:
“Looking ahead, the main challenges for students seem to be focused on what they have missed in terms of academic work, the loss of social skills as a consequence of isolation, the absence of their usual teen life experiences and milestones around leaving school, and worries about what the future holds for them. As a society, we now have an opportunity to proactively support this generation and close some of those academic and social skills gaps by listening to students, hearing their concerns, and working with them to create solutions that will overcome some of the setbacks and mental health difficulties of the last couple of years. They need us and we must not let our students down.”
In response to the significant challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic posed to university students’ mental health and wellbeing, we joined a number of charity, education and public sector organisations to provide students with round-the-clock advice, information and support through the launch of a new digital programme, Student Space. Run by Student Minds and funded by the Office for Students and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Student Space enabled us to reach more students when they needed us most.
Find out more about Student Space and explore our range of tips, advice and resources to help students with their mental health.