Mental health - what about young people who don’t go to university?

Thursday 17 May 2018

CAROLEIt is mental health awareness week and in yesterday’s Times, Helen Whately MP wrote about the need for better mental health provision for students at university and suggested that “for too many university is lonely and deadly”.

I cannot argue against the need for better mental health provision anywhere but given the number of articles there have been written recently about the suicide rates and incidence of mental health issues at universities you could be forgiven for thinking that this population is at greater risk than the general population. You could even be thinking that it is university that may be causing the difficulties amongst their students or putting their students at greater risk of mental health concerns in the future.

However, in my opinion it is very important that you don’t jump to these conclusions. There is plenty of research which challenges the notion that it those who are likely to go to university about whom we should be most worried. For example, Young Women’s Trust research showed that 45% of young women and 36% of young men said they were worried about their mental health with young women from socio-economic group DE being the most worried and this figure is increasing year on year.  Despite increasing overall numbers, it is the last group of young people, those from less advantaged groups, who are still less likely to go to university.  So they have higher rates of mental health issues and are less likely to have access to the resources and advantages that university and a degree can offer.  

And what about suicide?  The estimated suicide rate amongst the general population is twice that among students and it is often easier for many students to access help than those who are not students.

Other research shows that employment status is associated with suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and self-harm in working age adults (i.e. 16–64 years).  Those who are unemployed or economically inactive more like to be at risk.   These are people less likely to be at university or have degrees.

Given that graduates are more likely to get work than non-graduates surely our interest in mental health should not ignore the additional challenges facing young people who come from impoverished and deprived backgrounds, those at FE colleges or doing apprenticeships, those who are struggling to find quality work or those trapped in zero hours contracts anxious about whether they are going to earn enough to pay the bills. Let’s ensure that there is provision of quality services for all of our young people.