Pandemic Still Affecting UK Students’ Mental Health, Says Helpline

Experts have issued warnings that UK university students’ mental health is still suffering due to the pandemic, with increasing numbers seeking support from peer-run helplines for anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Nightline, an anonymous student volunteer-run helpline, has noted a surge in calls. It recorded a 51.4% rise in calls in the academic year 2020-21, which has since increased further. This year, early data has shown a 30% rise in calls and a further 23% increase since the start of the academic year.

According to Nightline, there has been a significant increase in callers discussing stress and anxiety, which now accounts for 17% of calls, up from 10.9% previously. The charity Student Minds’ policy manager, Jennifer Smith, stated that "the vast majority" of students have experienced disruptions in their lives, missing out on significant social, academic, and personal milestones, leaving them feeling a sense of "grief, loss, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence." Smith added that the pandemic remains a "real, very current challenge" for immunocompromised students, carers, and those on healthcare courses.

Although the number of Nightline calls from students attempting suicide has slightly decreased, there has been an increase in the number expressing suicidal thoughts, reaching 7.4% of calls. Matt Jones, a PhD student at Loughborough University who suffers from depression, anxiety, and autism, called Nightline six months ago, stating that he was "overwhelmed" by the barrage of stressful events worldwide.

Jones, who also runs his university’s Nightline service, believes that young people live in an especially anxiety-inducing era. Social media makes them feel more connected with global events, and there is pressure to hold well-informed views, or risk social media shaming. He added that more students phoning Nightline could be looked at positively, indicating that young people are better at understanding what can help and how to communicate their needs.

Schools are responding to the pandemic’s impact on students’ mental health, with universities increasingly developing and enhancing mental health support. They are providing staff training to identify early warning signs, and collaborating with the NHS for professional treatment. NHS doctor and student well-being books author, Dominique Thompson, said that most studies of students’ post-pandemic mental wellbeing showed an increase in loneliness and anxiety. This year’s pandemic, recession, and cost of living crisis have exacerbated the feeling of being out of control, heightening anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Young adults feel powerless when faced with such massive challenges, including eco-anxiety, academic pressure, and cost of living.

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