Adolescence and young adulthood is the period of peak onset of mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression or psychosis (Kessler et al, 2005). However, young people are also amongst the hardest to engage in treatment for their mental health (O’Brien et al, 2009). They may also struggle to access mental health services due to the way in which services are structured, with a divide between child and adolescent services (CAMHS) and adult services (AMHS). The transition between these services is often poor (Dunn, 2017), and young people can struggle to access the help they need.
The period of transition between CAMHS and AMHS is made more difficult as it coincides with the time when young people are also transitioning from school to university. Young people may be moving away from their old mental health service and family support network, at a time when they need it most.
Factors attributed to poor mental health:
Recent research has indicated that mental illnesses are on the rise amongst university students, with the number reporting poor mental health doubling in 5 years (Williams et al., 2015). The transition to university can also be a stressful period, and young people with an existing mental health problem are more likely to struggle when the reach university (Wolke et al, 2018). This study also found that when young people got to university, smoking, taking sleep medication, worries about money, poorer health, fewer close friends and caring responsibilities were related to poorer mental health. Binge drinking has also been shown to correlate with higher levels of anxiety amongst college students, although this study found no association between drinking and increased depression (Cranford et al, 2009).
Having higher levels of resilience has also been linked to improved mental health at university, both in the UK (Wolke et al, 2018) and America (Hartley, 2011). Having higher levels of resilience increases our ability to cope with stress, and so could help young people navigate this new stage in their lives as well as cope with various academic and social pressures. Factors which could increase resilience include having a stronger social network, or having the necessary life skills to be able to live alone. Importantly, research has shown that resilience can be improved via training, which can lead to college students having greater self-esteem, resilience and better mental health (Steinhardt & Dolbier, 2008.).
The rise in students experiencing mental illness at university is mirrored by the 94% increase in demand for university counselling services in the UK (IPPR, 2017). However, one recent review of existing literature suggests that most young people struggle to access appropriate help. This could be because they are not aware that they need support, or due to lack of time, concerns regarding privacy or financial costs of treatment (Hunt & Eisenberg, 2010).
Poor student mental health is associated with poorer academic outcomes (Bruffaerts et al, 2013) or an increased likelihood in dropping out of university. Tragically, the number of students who have taken their own lives has also increased in recent years (IPPR, 2017). It in non-negotiable that universities must make the mental health and wellbeing of students a priority and ensure that appropriate support is made available.
Bruffaerts, R., Mortier, P., Kiekens, G., Auerbach, R.P., Cuijpers, P., Demyttenaere, K., Green, J.G., Nock, M.K. and Kessler, R.C., 2018. Mental health problems in college freshmen: Prevalence and academic functioning. Journal of affective disorders, 225, pp.97-103.
Cranford, J.A., Eisenberg, D.S., & Serras, A.M. 2009. Substance use behaviors, mental health problems, and use of mental health services in a probability sample of college students. Addictive behaviors, 34 2, 134-45.
Dunn, V. (2017) Young people, mental health practitioners and researchers co-produce a transition preparation programme to improve outcomes and experience for young people leaving child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). BMC health services research, 17, 293.
Hartley, M.T., 2011. Examining the relationships between resilience, mental health, and academic persistence in undergraduate college students. Journal of American College Health, 59(7), pp.596-604.
Hunt, J. and Eisenberg, D., 2010. Mental health problems and help-seeking behavior among college students. Journal of adolescent health, 46(1), pp.3-10.
IPPR, 2017. Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities Accessed 20/01/2019: https://www.ippr.org/files/2017-09/not-by-degrees-summary-sept-2017-1-.pdf
Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R. & Walters, E. E. (2005) Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Archives of general psychiatry, 62, 593-602.
O’Brien, A., Fahmy, R. & Singh, S. P. (2009) Disengagement from mental health services. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 44, 558-568.
Steinhardt, M. and Dolbier, C., 2008. Evaluation of a resilience intervention to enhance coping strategies and protective factors and decrease symptomatology. Journal of American college health, 56(4), pp.445-453.
Wolke et al 2018. Student mental health and resilience in transition (SMART). Report of a feasibility study. Accessed 20/01/2019: https://drive.google.com/file/d/11L2W5lr84vi__m5lxmPoGpz5wv8cdm2p/view
Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash