More students than ever are seeking help for depression, university counsellors say.
More students means more problems, counsellors say
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy says the findings from its annual survey of student mental health will cause concern for parents, colleges and government.
The association says many students complain of "the twin miseries of debt and poverty".
COUNSELLING ATTENDED 2001/02
3.7% in "old" universities
2.4% in "new" universities
6% in higher education colleges
1.6% in further education colleges
(% of all students)
Its evidence suggests that at least 10% of students who sought counselling were suicidal or had attempted to kill themselves.
The provision of counselling is under strain in much of further and higher education.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has established a working party to look urgently at the needs for better student mental health provision.
One thing that particularly worries counsellors is that less than a third of all students seeking counselling are male.
"Given that young men are the highest risk group for suicide overall, our universities and colleges are clearly failing in their duty of care to one half of the student population," says its report.
'Tougher these days'
The transition to student life has always been unsettling, it acknowledges.
Wider access to higher education, while a great step towards equality for under-represented groups, has produced vulnerable clusters of students
But Nigel Humphrys, head of Leeds University Counselling Service, said parents might not appreciate modern pressures.
"Being a student is quite different now from 20 years ago. Today we have a mass higher education system, so universities tend to be much larger and less personal.
"It's very rare for students to go through a degree programme with the same 20 or 30 people - instead they take different modules with large numbers of different people so it's hard for them to build up support networks.
"And you don't just have finals now, you have exams twice a year, every year, so the pressure is on from the moment you start until the moment you finish."
Ruth Caleb, head of counselling at Brunel University, says the official policy of encouraging people with no family experience of university to become students is also a factor.
"Wider access to higher education, while a great step towards equality for under-represented groups, has produced vulnerable clusters of students who need greater emotional support," she said.
"Of course traditional students still feel all the pressures of campus life and we offer help as we always have.
"But international students, mature students, students from ethnic minorities, students with physical or mental disabilities, students from poor communities, are coming in increasing numbers to universities and colleges.
"These students make up a large percentage of the students seen by university and college counselling services.
"They may need extra support in order to reach their academic potential and may even be at risk of giving up their courses altogether."
Internet 'can help'
Counsellors say they need more funding to cope.
The association's Deputy Chief Executive, Alan Jamieson, said: "We know student counselling works. We should apply it".
A separate survey presented at the annual conference of the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests many people suffering from depression are turning to the internet for help rather than to professionals.
Researchers in London, Oxford and Toronto say sharing information with other sufferers on the net may be attractive to people who can discuss their problems without ever being identified.
"Our findings do not support a view of the internet as harmful. We found that many users felt able to discuss subjects that they were unable to discuss elsewhere," they said.