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The BBC's Christine Stewart
"The traditional image is that student days are the best of our lives"
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Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 21:18 GMT
Depression growing among students
Debt contributes to students' worries
The number of students seeking help for mental health problems is rising - and there are calls for the government to provide more support.

A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation showed that 50% of university students showed signs of clinical anxiety and more than one in 10 suffered from clinical depression.

No single reason explains the growing demand for counselling but experts say it is not just because more people are attending universities.

Quite a lot of serious mental health problems manifest themselves around the traditional ages of being at university

Student Chris O'Sullivan
Students are now calling for a national network to co-ordinate treatments but they are worried there will not be extra funding to provide more help.

Michael Burton, from the University of Sussex Counselling Service, said he was seeing more students with mental health problems than ever before.

"Twenty years ago, when I started, it was rare to see people who were suicidal, who had issues of self mutilation or who were taking, for instance, hard drugs," he said.

"Now I think that constitutes 40% to 50% of my work load. I think there has been a major shift and it has the implication that we are working more as a psychiatric outpost than a counselling service."

Chris O'Sullivan was diagnosed as a manic depressive while at Aberdeen University. He is now trying to lift the stigma and help others.

'Self mutilation'

"Quite a lot of serious mental health problems manifest themselves around the traditional ages of being at university and often the stresses and strains of being at university are something that can trigger that happening," he said.

Student loans and juggling finances are believed to contribute to worries, along with sudden pressures and being away from home.

The latest figures compare to levels reported in 1987 where between one and 25% of students showed significant emotional disturbance.

This year, for the first time, a government study will reveal the full extent of the problem.

Higher Education Minister Baroness Blackstone said people should wait for the results of the study before any action is taken.

Baroness Blackstone
Baroness Blackstone: Waiting for results of government study
"I think we really have to wait until a very big study done by the Department of Health comes out in the summer, then I think we will have more authoritative figures.

"I think some of those findings are based on small studies, focus groups and things like that. So I think we have to be a little bit cautious before we jump to any conclusions," she said.

But while there is little dispute about the worrying number of students with mental health problems, the question is how to tackle it.

Students want a national network to co-ordinate treatments, but Baroness Blackstone said universities should remain in charge of their counselling services.

"It is a matter for universities to run proper student counselling services," she said.

"I would expect then to provide adequate service. It is important that students are supported in this area, just as it is important that they have good careers advice and so on."

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31 Jan 01 | Education
Students demand 'debt dropout' count
20 Dec 00 | Education
Students' deepening debt burden
27 Mar 00 | Education
Student rent rises add to debts
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