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You will be shocked to see how little students know about mental health

New research has shown that awareness of mental health issues and how to address them is at surprisingly low levels among students at universities in the UK. A 2015 survey showed that 78 per cent of students admitted to having mental health problems in their previous academic year. But a new study by academics at the University of Portsmouth indicates that those in higher education are not as aware of the signs of an issue or where to turn to for help as previously thought.

Here are six key findings from the study.

Image: Stress.

1. Mental health literacy is falling.

The 380 university students surveyed in the south of England returned an average score of 122.88 on the mental health literacy scale (MHLS), a wide-ranging measure of various factors around mental health. That’s lower than the figure of 127.38 recorded in the 2015 study, carried out in Australia.

2. Women understand it better than men

The survey showed that women, with a score of 128.23, have a better understanding of mental health than men, who scored almost nine points lower with 119.48. This greater awareness among women is possibly linked to other results that showed women have lower levels of mental well-being than men.

Image: Girl sitting.

3. Greater understanding among postgraduates than most undergraduates

Postgraduate students showed a significantly higher figure on the MHLS than first and second-year undergraduates. Age and experience appear to be important factors, as third-year undergraduates outscored postgraduate masters students with a figure of 129.38 compared to 127.47. But it’s also worth considering that this survey was conducted at one university, with postgraduates – at both masters and PhD level – comprising 13 per cent of those surveyed.

4. Students with a history of mental health issues show greater mental health literacy

An MHLS score of 135.15 for those who had reported mental health problems in the past was nearly 14 points higher than those who had not. This suggests that poor knowledge of the subject is preventing students from recognising that they may have a problem.

5. Talking to loved ones is preferred to professional advice on mental health

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Seeking support from a partner or family rather than help from a professional provides more evidence of a reluctance to open up to outside agencies about mental health. On a scale where 1 means extremely unlikely and 7 means extremely likely, results showed that seeking help from partners scored highest with 5.37. Help from parents scored 4.72 on this scale, but going to a doctor was least likely with a score of 2.74. In addition to this, only 51 per cent of students surveyed were confident that a GP could give them information on mental health.

6. People who are mental health literate search for help

Assessing MHLS alongside the survey’s results on how students look for help showed that it is the mental health-literate who are more likely to seek it out. Those with lower levels of distress, or higher levels of well-being, recorded higher on MHLS, a factor also associated more with those who look for help with their mental health issues.

Read more! You can discover more about the survey and its findings in the research paper ‘Examining mental health literacy, help seeking behaviours, and mental health outcomes in UK university students’, published in The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice.

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