Starting university should be a time for having fun and making new friends. So why are we seeing record referral rates to student counselling services and reports of student suicides in the news? And what can universities do to help? Dr Nicola Byrom, Lecturer in Psychology at King’s College London, is using UK Research and Innovation ‘Network Plus’ funding to find out.
Type ‘Student mental health’ into a search of UK news and you’ll be hit by headlines referring to: ‘The ticking time-bomb’, ‘Students being let down’, warnings that ‘problems are rising’. If you read these stories in isolation, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re in the depths of a crisis in student mental health.
In reality the picture is much more complex. In June this year, the Office of National Statistics reported that the suicide rate among the general population is actually higher than the comparable age group of university students.
Psychiatrist and Population Scientist Professor Simon Gilbody of the University of York, has just been awarded £1 million to build his new “Closing the gap network”. With 20 years’ experience in healthcare, Simon has seen how lives can be transformed if the same emphasis is placed on both physical and mental health. Starting this year, the special network of experts from the sciences to the arts will try to understand and tackle the root causes of why the health and life expectancy of people with severe mental ill health is so poor.
Image credit: University of York
What is the ‘mortality gap’ and what are we doing to tackle it?
People who use mental health services experience the poorest physical health and most profound health inequalities of any section of the UK population.
Diabetes, heart disease and chronic respiratory illness, are two to three times more common in this group of people than for people with good mental health. Life expectancy is reduced by 20 to 25 years, and a person developing schizophrenia in their 20s can only expect, on average, to live into their 50s.
University of Manchester Clinical Psychologist and Senior Lecturer Dr Sandra Bucci tells us about a Smartphone app her team are developing for the self-management of psychosis, and how it could particularly help younger ‘digital natives’.
Image credit: University of Manchester
Severe mental health problems such as schizophrenia affect 24 million people worldwide, with an estimated annual cost to society of nearly £12bn in England alone. People with psychosis tend to misinterpret or confuse what is going on around them. For example, they may experience hallucinations (in which they see or hear things that are not real), delusions (unusual beliefs not usually held by others) or confused thinking.
Connecting the disconnected
Feelings of isolation are common for people experiencing psychosis. Psychotic experiences usually begin to appear in adolescence and young adulthood – a critical time in life when we find our identity, complete our education and start out on our careers. Feeling disconnected from others during that time can have really serious knock-on effects, not only on the trajectory of the rest of your life but for your family, and for society more broadly.