That is one of the striking findings in this year’s wave of the NHS Mental Health of Children and Young People in England study, which indicates some interesting aspects of the youth mental health crisis that are worth universities and their SUs considering carefully.
We don’t really get to see consistent break outs of students from the rest of the population – but we do learn that one in five (22.2 per cent) of 17-24 year olds that are in education have a probable mental disorder (rising to almost 30 per cent for women), with a further 14 per cent with a possible disorder.
One particularly alarming finding surrounds possible eating disorders. The percentage of those screening positive for possible eating problems is 60.3 for 17 to 19 year olds, up from 44.6 in 2017 – and it’s higher for 20-23 year olds at 62.2 per cent (and 79.9 for girls/women).
The survey uses a different set of questions to that used by the ONS a year or so ago, but nevertheless suggests that universities ought to be taking food much more seriously as a mental health and student success issue than previously.
The other result that stands out surrounds loneliness. We might have expected the lockdowns in 2020 to generate a 13.8 per cent “often or always” score on loneliness for 17-24 year olds – but that has only fallen to 12.6 this year, up at 14 per cent for women/girls. Correlation isn’t causation, but there’s a close relationship with the likelihood of having a mental health disorder and loneliness in the data too.
Oh – and among 17 to 22 year olds with a probable mental disorder, 14.8 per cent reported living in a household that had experienced not being able to buy enough food or using a food bank in the past year, compared with 2.1 per cent of young people unlikely to have a mental disorder.
Frustratingly, while there are questions about “school” support, once young people hit 17-24 the NHS survey questions on isolation have no category for full-time students (while breaking out those in work, those in work plus education and those in neither). And while we learn about workplace support, it doesn’t ask about support from universities either. Who designs this stuff?
Earlier this week the BBC News features unit ran what amounts to an interesting lit review on students’ relationship with food more generally. It’s well worth a look.