Students and Mental Health

Research published in May 2013 by the National Union of Students found that 20 per cent of 1,200 higher education students surveyed considered themselves to have a mental health problem, while 13 per cent had suicidal thoughts.

92 per cent of respondents identified themselves as having had feelings of mental distress, which often included feeling down, stressed and demotivated. On average, respondents who experienced feelings of mental distress experienced them once a month or more (74 per cent), and almost one third suffered mental distress every week.

The main causes of this were found to be course work for 65 per cent of respondents, exams and study were a cause for over half (54 per cent), with almost as many citing financial difficulty (47 per cent).


Depression affects people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms according to the NHS website. They range from lasting feelings of sadness and hopelessness, to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling very tearful. Many people with depression also have symptoms of anxiety and it is the growth of anxiety based depression that has led to the Contact Sheet being created.

Depression can also be identified through physical symptoms, such as feeling constantly tired, sleeping badly, having no appetite or sex drive, and complaining of various aches and pains.

The severity of the symptoms can vary. At its mildest, someone may simply feel persistently low in spirit (read about low mood), while at its most severe depression it can make someone feel suicidal and that life is no longer worth living.

Treatment for depression usually involves a combination of medicines, talking therapies and self-help.

The figures below are based on the finding of the latest ONS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey which was published in 2004.

  • 0.9% or nearly 80,000 children and young people are seriously depressed
  • 0.2% or about 8,700 aged 5-10 year-olds are seriously depressed.
  • 1.4% or about 62,000 aged 11-16 year-olds are seriously depressed

The type of treatment a doctor recommends will be based on the type of depression diagnosed. Here is an overview of the most common diagnosis from the NHS website.

Mild depression

  • wait and see – depression may improve by itself. In this case, a person will be seen again by a GP after two weeks to monitor progress. This is known as watchful waiting.
  • exercise – there is evidence that exercise may help depression and it is one of the main treatments for mild depression.
  • self-help groups – talking through feelings can be helpful. Talking either to a friend or relative, or a local self-help group. A GP may also recommend self-help books and online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Mild to moderate depression

  • talking therapy – if mild depression isn’t improving, a GP may recommend talking treatment (a type of psychotherapy). There are different types of talking therapy for depression, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling.

Moderate to severe depression

  • antidepressants – antidepressants are tablets that treat the symptoms of depression. There are almost 30 different kinds of antidepressant. They have to be prescribed by a doctor, usually for depression that is moderate or severe.
  • combination therapy – a GP may recommend that you take a course of antidepressants plus talking therapy, particularly if your depression is quite severe. A combination of an antidepressant and CBT usually works better than having just one of these treatments.
  • mental health teams – severe depression, may be referred to a mental health team made up of psychologists, psychiatrists, specialist nurses and occupational therapists. These teams often provide intensive specialist talking treatments as well as prescribed medication.

The Facts

  • 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year.1
  • 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24.2
  • 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem3, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.4

Self Help, First Steps

According to the UK based website Students Against Depression when depression gets a foothold in your life, it quickly takes hold in the form of a series of mutually reinforcing habits. Depressed behaviour in the form of avoidance and social withdrawal (the first most obvious signs of depression based issues arising that a lecturer or teacher notices) reinforces depressed feelings and the lethargy that often accompanies depression. Whilst not a substitute for professional help, these strategies outlined by the website offer a starting point for you to turn this spiral around.

Finding what works for you
Every person is affected by depression differently, so you need to keep trying to find what works for you. Here’s how to make a start.

Breaking isolation
A very important first step is to find ways to break free from the withdrawal and isolation that makes depression worse. Read more

Taking care of yourself
Aiming to take care of yourself better, in small practical ways, builds up a habit of positive self-soothing which forms a real barrier against depression. Read more

Focusing outward
Setting small, achievable goals for purposeful ways to distract yourself and engage with life is another very helpful strategy. Read more

Getting going
Taking small positive steps to do a few more pleasurable, fun activities – even if you don’t feel like it – is one of the quickest ways to make a difference to depression.



  • 1WHO (2003). Caring for children and adolescents with mental disorders: Setting WHO directions. [online] Geneva: World Health Organization. Available at:[Accessed 14 Sep. 2015].
  • 2Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. (2005). Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62 (6) pp. 593-602. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593.
  • 3Green,H., Mcginnity, A., Meltzer, Ford, T., Goodman,R. 2005 Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain: 2004. Office for National Statistics.
  • 4Children’s Society (2008) The Good Childhood Inquiry: health research evidence. London: Children’s Society.