University Mental Health Day – Words by Mark Balaam CEO – imabi

According to the 2023 report on the Mental Health of Children and Young People in England by NHS England, released last November, the prevalence of mental health concerns among young individuals has increased significantly, with one in five now affected, up from one in eight in 2017 (among 5 to 19-year-olds).


The rise in mental health issues comes as no surprise in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Disruptions to daily routines, social isolation, and uncertainties spanning health and education have heightened stress and anxiety levels. For university students, the challenges were often compounded by the high tuition fees paid amidst a drastically altered educational landscape. Remote learning disrupted social interactions and support systems, prompting institutions to adapt swiftly to ensure educational continuity.


While universities and schools have gradually restored their education systems post-pandemic, the question arises: has there been adequate emphasis on mental health in this rebuilding process?


Schools, being the feeder system for universities, hold a crucial role in supporting pupils. However, there’s a notable lack of widespread implementation of support systems. A Department of Education report during Mental Health Awareness Week last May revealed that barely a third of school pupils benefit from the government’s Mental Health Support Teams initiative launched five years ago.


The shortcomings in mental health support at the school level inevitably impact universities. This transition phase for young adults often involves their first taste of independence and managing various responsibilities, which can exacerbate existing mental health challenges.


Despite initiatives like Mental Health Support Teams, it’s evident that more needs to be done, especially considering the pre-existing issues not fully addressed before the pandemic. The failure to widely implement such initiatives despite significant interest underscores the inadequacy of post-Covid efforts in prioritising mental health.


While the pandemic officially ended nearly a year ago, mental health challenges persist among young people. The question arises: is Covid the root cause, or has it merely brought existing issues to light?


While Covid has shed light on mental health concerns, it would be remiss to attribute the entirety of the problem to increased awareness alone. Factors such as the influence of social media, which often distorts reality and amplifies anxiety, as well as global issues like geopolitics and climate change, contribute significantly to heightened stress levels.


Addressing youth mental health is a multifaceted challenge, requiring concerted efforts from educators and society at large. Allocating resources to provide accessible guidance and support, and fostering an environment where individuals feel comfortable sharing their concerns, are crucial steps towards improving mental health awareness and support.

Mark Balaam is a safeguarding expert with more than 30 years’ experience. He’s also the CEO and founder of imabi, a safeguarding platform, which includes a dedicated app – imabi Inspire – aimed at safeguarding students in educational settings.