Mayday, Mayday, Mayday: Behind the Mental Health Crisis Plaguing our Youth

StudentPulse Team
December 16, 2022

Scrolling through the news today, it’s scarily common to come across stories of young people struggling with their mental health or dying by suicide. Whether they come from the US, Europe or Asia, these individual stories represent a collective cry for help. ‍ In a US study, half of young people aged 18-24 are reported to experience moderate or severe depression. In England, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were at least 319 suicides at universities and higher education colleges over a four year period. Meanwhile, UNICEF shares that nine million youths in Europe are living with mental health disorders, with anxiety and depression accounting for more than half of the cases.

How did we end up in this crisis?

The university experience is often portrayed as the best years of a person’s life - young adults going to live on their own, making new friends and gaining valuable experiences, without the burden of adulthood. While this may be true, it only accounts for half the story. The other half of the story, the less-talked about half, shows students struggling to juggle living with:

  • The pressure to succeed - Students with perfectionistic tendencies or attending top universities will drive themselves to the ground as failure is not an option. Without the familiar support network of their family, this all-or-nothing mindset can be detrimental to their mental health.
  • Social media influences - Growing up in a world where social media is the norm and unattainable lifestyles, possessions, and standards of beauty are being flaunted by influencers, it’s common for students to feel like they can never match up.  
  • Effects of COVID-19 - COVID-19 has been a traumatic experience for our youth, with so many young people losing parents or loved ones and spending a significant amount of time being isolated from others. The American Psychological Association’s CEO, Arthur C. Evans Jr. also cautioned that “the mental health situation is not going to get better even as the virus recedes.” Research from traumatic events such as Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina also shows that “we should expect to see people experiencing problems for at least another 7 to 10 years.”
  • Inheriting a world that is struggling - With climate change being a harsh reality, the job market tanking and inflation soaring, students are only all too aware of the future that is waiting for them.

So, is it any wonder really that students are struggling with their mental health?

Awareness is the first step

The good news is that governments, organisations and citizens are now starting to be aware of the extent of this crisis and are actively calling for action.

The UK’s National Union of Students has called on universities and the government to support vulnerable students and “put protections in place to prevent thousands more reaching crisis point.” In December 2021, the Office of the U.S Surgeon General released an advisory (which are typically reserved for significant public health issues) regarding youth mental health. The Ministry of Health of Greece and WHO/Europe also launched a new programme to support the quality of mental health care of youth in all 53 countries of the WHO European Region.

As these steps are being taken to address youth mental health, we must also be conscious of the current barriers that are preventing our youth from seeking help. Studies have shown that about a third of students who are in need of mental health do not receive any mental health treatment at all. Some of these barriers include:

  • Lack of Knowledge - Students might not recognise the signs of mental distress in themselves and may write it off as just having a bad day. They may wrongly believe that everyone else must also be having a hard time. Students may also not know where to seek help or what resources are available to them.
  • Fear of Judgment or Repercussions - The stigma of being viewed as mentally ill can also lead to students not seeking help as they don’t want to be negatively perceived or to have opportunities taken away from them.
  • Lack of Trust -  Research has shown that students are expressing a desire for adults to see and hear them, including a greater acceptance and respect for their situation.

How can we play our part in tackling this crisis?

At StudentPulse, we feel a responsibility to be part of the solution. As we worked with universities across Europe, we saw firsthand that when mental health services are offered to students, up to 20% of students surveyed will choose to take it. This is not an insignificant number and it signals to us that we need to reach out to students, listen to what they are trying to tell us and offer them timely support and resources should they need them.

As StudentPulse combines microsurveys with real-time data analytics to get a better understanding of students’ needs, educational institutions can survey their students at regular intervals and depending on the answer they provide, automatically connect students to the appropriate resource. This allows students to get help on an individual level, at the exact time when help is needed. Imagine a student struggling with social and emotional pressures to maintain perfect grades. Being able to indicate that they urgently need help and be directed to a counsellor in real-time will go a long way in protecting their mental well-being.

We truly believe that being able to connect with students and offer them help will play a role in turning the tide of this mental health crisis. No young person should ever have to struggle alone or contemplate suicide. To learn more about StudentPulse and how we can collaborate to combat the youth mental health crisis, feel free to reach out to our team today.