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As students start or return to university for the 2021/22 academic year, we have published a new report exploring the key mental health challenges that students have faced in 2021, how they are feeling about the upcoming year and what support they feel they need from their university to better manage their mental health.

You can read the full report here.

One in five people who text our Shout 85258 support service for immediate help with their mental health are students. So far in 2021, Shout has taken around 78,000 conversations with 27,600 students in higher education.

Our report combines analysis of our vast and unique dataset gathered from Shout’s anonymised conversations with students with 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.

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. Here’s what we found:

The mental health issues facing students in 2021

We analysed data from a sample of 12,100 conversations with 3,956 students via Shout to identify the experiences and needs of university students in mental distress across the UK in 2021.

Students’ outlook for the 2021/22 academic year

This summer, 627 students who texted Shout for support with their mental health also responded to a survey to tell us about their concerns for the new academic year and how they want their university to support them.

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.”

The Student Space programme, run by Student Minds and funded by the Office for Students (OfS) and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), was launched in response to Covid-19 to provide students in higher education with information, advice and support to navigate the challenges posed by the pandemic. Student Space brings together a host of partners committed to supporting student mental health, including Mental Health Innovations, and thus enabled Shout to increase its reach to students at a time when they needed it most.

Ben Leatham, Student Space Programme Manager, Student Minds, said: “The findings in this report demonstrate the vital role Shout plays in ensuring that students across the UK get the mental health support they need. With funding from OfS and HEFCW, Student Minds has been delighted to support Shout to expand its service for students during the pandemic as part of the Student Space programme, and we look forward to continuing to work with them across the remainder of 2021.”

Our report contains insights from a number of esteemed student mental health experts, notably Dr Radha Modgil, Dr Dominique Thompson and Ben West.

Dr Radha Modgil, NHS GP, broadcaster and campaigner for wellbeing, said: “Students have faced unprecedented challenges, rapid change and immense uncertainty in every area of their lives over the last 18 months. This has taken and will continue to take its toll on their mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s all our job to ensure adequate support services are available to all students in the form that they find useful and accessible. Meaningful mental health support has for too long taken a back seat in the conversation about wellbeing and the pandemic has brought this need even more into focus. Mental health support in a tangible, holistic and meaningful format is key and action is what’s needed.”

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.”

Ben West, student mental health campaigner who lost his brother to suicide, said: “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. No doubt the year ahead will have its own challenges. We must make student mental health and prevention of student suicide a priority above all else and use research to fuel evidence-backed innovation that aids student mental health.”