University Mental Health Day (4 March) is shining the spotlight on the worsening mental health crisis in Britain’s universities. A joint initiative between Student Minds and UMHAN (the university mental health advisers network), the national awareness day inspires conversations about mental health, encouraging people to take action and create change. This year this focus is needed like never before.
Stresses students lack support
In January, an article in The Telegraph reported that nearly 80% of students are feeling anxious or stressed but support is seriously lacking when they start in higher education. Thirty seven percent were affected by friendship or relationship issues, 8.8% admitted to self-harming and 11% to alcohol abuse. The article points to a lack of pastoral care predating the Covid-19 crisis and cites figures from Bristol University showing 10 students died from suspected suicide in the years immediately before the pandemic. It highlights the case of one young man who stopped attending lectures and received official warnings but no communications asking if everything was alright.
Three quarters of students struggling
The Covid crisis has exacerbated the problem, according to Unite Students, the UK’s largest provider of student accommodation. It carried out a survey of 2,000 students and reports that more than three quarters of respondents (77%) are struggling with mental health and wellbeing as a result of the pandemic. The biggest challenge is the lack of face-to-face teaching, practical experience or facilities.
The survey revealed that the majority of students (84%) believe that engaging in university life has a positive impact on their mental health. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that 86% are keen to return to their university campuses as soon as it is safe to do so. Three quarters (75%) regard being on campus and living in university accommodation as having as much importance as going to lectures and tutorials.
As schoolchildren in England prepare to return to their classrooms on 8 March, four out of five university students (79%) are hoping to see a return to face-to-face tuition after the Easter break.
Swift diagnosis and support essential
If students are experiencing mental health and wellbeing issues, it is vital that this is picked up early so that the relevant support can be provided. In some cases, medication might be appropriate to avoid a deterioration in symptoms.
How personalised medication helps
Personalised medication is increasingly effective in treating mental health conditions. Referred to as psychiatric pharmacogenetics, this is a scientific approach to prescribing medication which studies how an individual’s genetic make-up will affect their response to certain psychiatric treatments and medication.
Medication – different effects for different people
Why is this important? The way that medication for psychiatric conditions has been prescribed in the past has relied on trial and error. This is because not all patients respond in the same way to medication, some people need a higher or lower dosage and some medication produces side-effects for certain patients but not for others. Statistics show that more than a third (38%) of people with depression do not respond to the initial medication they are given. This is a problem because when you are unwell, receiving prompt, effective treatment is important and particularly right now when the challenges are acute, it is vital.
Pinpointing the right treatment
Myogenes has an exclusive UK partnership with Genomind, who have developed a pharmacogenomics test, used by doctors, to help them make the right treatment decisions. By identifying specific genetic markers, the test can pinpoint which treatments are likely to be most effective and at what dosage levels. It uses a simple saliva swab and test results are normally sent back to the doctor within a week to 10 days. The test is used for a wide range of psychiatric conditions including depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, autism and bipolar disorder.