Students support disclosure of mental illness to parents

Students support disclosure of mental illness to parents

Two-thirds of students think mental health problems should be disclosed to their parents or guardians in “extreme circumstances”, according to research.

The yearly Student Academic Experience Survey, conducted by Advance HE and the Higher Education Policy Institute, asked students about mental health problems for the first time this year.

The survey of more than 14,000 full-time undergraduate students found that 66% supported telling someone’s parent or guardian about their mental health issues “under extreme circumstances”, while a further 15% supported it “under any circumstances”.

The survey found that students were significantly more anxious than other young people. Just 16% reported feeling “low anxiety”, compared with 37% for all those aged 20 to 24.

James Murray, the father of a student who killed himself, called last year for the relaxation of data protection rules that deter universities from alerting parents that their child has serious mental health problems. His son Ben Murray, 19, who was studying English at Bristol University, died in May 2018.

The then higher education minister, Sam Gyimah, proposed in response that students arriving at university could be asked to opt in to a system that would allow a family member or friend to be contacted if they developed serious mental health problems – something that has now been introduced at Bristol University.

Alison Johns, the chief executive of Advance HE, said: “Student wellbeing remains a huge concern, and if a green light were needed for changes to allow universities to contact parents and guardians where an individual may have mental health problems, we have a very strong signal here in support of that change.”

The survey also found that 41% of students perceived “good” or “very good” value from their course – the second consecutive year with a three percentage point improvement. Twenty-nine percent of students perceived “poor” or “very poor” value, a drop of three percentage points since last year and five points since 2017.

For those who thought they were receiving good value from their course, teaching quality was the main reason cited (64%), whereas tuition fees were the main reason cited by students who thought they were receiving poorer value (62%).

The study detected small changes to average contact hours and workload. Since 2015, there has been a decline in independent study from 15.2 hours a week to 13.8, and an increase in timetabled contact hours from 13.4 to 13.9 hours.

Johns said the findings pointed to an emerging trend in students’ positive perceptions of value for money, which was “welcome and encouraging”. “It’s particularly pleasing to see teaching at the core of this improvement, and it also reflects good leadership and sound governance which Advance HE is committed to supporting,” she said.

Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of the Office for Students, said the survey painted a mixed picture. “It is positive that the proportion of students who believe their course offers value for money has increased for a second year.

“However, with fewer than half agreeing their course is good value, there is clearly more to do for universities to understand and act upon what constitutes value for money in higher education.”