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Students support parental involvement in a mental health crisis

Two-thirds of sudents support universities disclosing information to parents in a mental health crisis, a survey has found. 

Conducted by Advance HE and the Higher Education Policy Institute, the Student Academic Experience Survey 2019 found that 66% of respondents supported telling a parent or guardian about their child’s mental health issues “under extreme circumstances”.

It was responded to by over 14,000 full-time undergraduates. A further 15% of students supported the university informing their parents on mental health concerns “under any circumstances”, while 18% felt that universities should never be allowed to get in touch with parents.

In the 2019 survey 14% reported “life satisfaction”, while only 18% of students said they were happy. 17% of students who responded described their life as “worthwhile”.

The number of students reporting low level anxiety has decreased from 18% in 2018 to 16% in 2019. This is compared to 37% for all young people between 20 and 24 year olds reporting low anxiety, according to the report.

Moreover, 21% of students whose experience was worse than expected blamed their course for being too difficult. This was a rise on the previous year when only 16% cited this as a reason.

If a green light were needed for changes to allow universities to contact parents and guardians where an individual may have mental health problems, we have a very strong signal here in support of that change

– Alison Johns

Alison Johns, Advance HE chief executive, stated: “Student wellbeing remains a huge concern, and if a green light were needed for changes to allow universities to contact parents and guardians where an individual may have mental health problems, we have a very strong signal here in support of that change.”

The University of Bristol has introduced a mental health scheme in which students can allow parents or trusted adults to be contacted; 95% of students have opted in.

Ben Murray, whose son James died and was a student at the university, commented: “Mental health has been ignored for too long and we need to encourage disclosure at exactly the time when young adults need it most – transitioning from school to university.”

Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, told the BBC: “The survey dispels the fiction that students don’t want their parents and guardians involved.

“It’s incredibly difficult for many students to transition to university. And having parents and guardians more involved when appropriate is good sense, and can only help, including helping save lives.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said: “The survey provides further worrying confirmation of the extent to which students are struggling with mental health.

“While an increased willingness to talk openly about mental health in recent years is welcome, these figures provide a stark reminder that more work is needed in this area.”

The proportion of students feeling they were getting value for money from their course has increased, the survey revealed, rising rom 38% to 41%. There were however 29% who said that their course was poor value for money.

Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, said: “Fortunately, it is clear how to deliver for students. They want to be stretched, they want clearer feedback and they want more support for mental health challenges.”

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