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Bundles of nerves: Anxiety at university explained

More and more young people continue to face internal struggles, as latest statistics reveal an increase in cases of anxiety at university, with minimal support.

It can be difficult going through puberty, as we all know, but pile on top of that insecurity from an age of social exhibitionism via Snapchat and Instagram and you’ll have a teenager with low self-esteem. Typically this creates feelings of worthlessness and, following that depression. However, as a nation of youths starts to age, we are being left with problems, like Generalised Anxiety Disorder, that aren’t being dealt with.

What is Generalised Anxiety? 

Generalised Anxiety Disorder and other forms of anxiety can be caused by many other things, such as abuse, PTSD, drug addiction, stress and certain medication, among other factors.

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe’ – NHS

The NHS site has also stated that, ‘some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives’.

Statistics around the UK

In the Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer in 2012, it was said that, “Over half of all mental ill health starts before age 15 and 75% develops by age 18”. Many of these problems can be overlooked if the child is not showing major signs of distress or behavioural differences. Consequently, anxiety cases remain untouched until adulthood, as it is in many cases quiet and hidden.

Nearly half of students with a mental health condition do not disclose it to their university’ – Institute for Public Policy Research, September 2017

Stress is seen as a subcategory of anxiety, and cases of these are often combined in numbers with anxiety itself. In the latest statistics from universities across the UK, cases of anxiety are extremely high. Glasgow School of Art recorded that 43.1% of all students who accessed counselling suffered from some form of anxiety.

Surprisingly, a small number of universities do not offer counselling of any form to their students. This includes the University of Hull, with a student population of 15,011. Statistically, Hull would have a community of, on average, 829 students that are being deprived of access to counselling for their various mental health and wellbeing issues, not just for those who have anxiety.

The University of Hull was unwilling to comment on this.

Rise in students seeking counselling.

The University of Leeds reported 856 cases of anxiety, in comparison to the 440 cases of depression. In most universities, this pattern also applies to the number of students suffering from anxiety who access some form of counselling, many of whom are in their first year. Durham University saw that 501 of their year 1s accessed counselling, dwarfing numbers from other years.

If you would like to see a breakdown of statistics of students (for years 1,2,3 and postgraduate) accessing counselling in 20 universities across the UK, follow the link below:

How is anxiety effecting students’ progress?

Anxiety has many effects on students and the way that they cope with university life. Many consequences of suffering with anxiety are: 

  • Obvious distress and disability
  • Less likely to have satisfying social relationships
  • Higher ongoing usage of health facilities
  • Take longer to move out of home
  • Live a life (in their own words) of “missed opportunity”.

Many students find that they are unable to focus and do not complete work on time, however this could also be the polar-opposite in others, whereby they sole focus on work and neglect other areas of their lives, like socialising and communicating with family.

Dr. A Gamble from the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University, Sydney, stated in a study that, ‘Anxiety leads to poor engagement in class. Highly anxious students often avoid tasks that require communication or that involve potential peer or teacher evaluation. They consequently miss the benefit of interactive learning experiences.

Anxiety leads to drop out [of education] 49% of anxious adults report having left education early, 24% indicated anxiety as the primary reason’.

Gamble then goes on to explain that anxiety also had a major impact on memory, concentration, social interaction and the person’s general health.

Higher organisations on university counselling

Assistant Director of Transformation and Community Mobilisation for Vulnerable People at the NHS, Kirsty O’Callaghan said: “Young people are under so much pressure to simply get the best possible results, schools give the impression that they only have one shot at success, that will determine the rest of their lives – although this is untrue.”

After discussing the effects of anxiety on young people Kirsty continued to say that, “anxiety transmits to parents […] I believe this is having a direct impact on young people’s mental health – as parents strive to maximise their children’s accomplishments, seeing them as an indicator of their own value”.

“Schools give the impression that they [students] only have one shot at success”

In order for students to succeed at obtaining a degree, they need a good quality of education and wellbeing support, amount other things. So why then, is this ever-growing problem so under-funded and in such dire need of reform?

In September 2016, HEPI  (The Higher Education Policy Institute) released a report that stated that, “Many universities need to triple their spending on  mental health support” due to the severe lack of counsellors in comparison to the number of students who are using the services nationwide.

In correspondence with this, Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI said, “Universities should adopt mental health Action Plans, provide mental health training for staff and boost spending on counselling – currently, a single star academic can cost more than a university’s entire counselling service”.

Access counselling whilst at university

Many universities have ‘Student Wellbeing” or ‘Counselling’ departments that you can contact via email by looking at your university’s website. After emailing the team will then send you a written assessment or invite you for an oral assessment to initially discuss the problems that you are facing.

Afterwards, the team will contact you again in order to organise your first appointment for a counselling session. However, the wait for this may be a little while, perhaps 2-3 weeks maximum wait, as university only has a certain number of support staff between thousands of students.

If you are unable to contact your university services, or don’t feel able to, your university may also offer The Big White Wall’s service. This is an anonymous service that offers community support, self-improvement tools and creative outlets to express yourself and deal with your issues.

Click here to visit The Big White Wall’s website.