A College-wide survey has found that three out of four students have suffered from high levels of stress or a mental health condition whilst at Imperial.
The online survey, completed by over a thousand students, found that 39% of all respondents have suffered from mental stresses.
21% had or have been diagnosed with a mental health condition and a further 16% suspect they have a mental illness but are yet to be diagnosed. Only 15% of the total respondents said they had experienced no mental health conditions or damaging stress levels at all.
Out of those who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, 67% suffer from depression, 42.4% suffer from anxiety, and 16% suffer from an eating disorder, amongst others. 42% of all those diagnosed with a mental health condition were suffering from multiple illnesses.
The survey also found that 69.5% of those that suffer from stress do so at least once a week, and 9% of students feel stressed constantly. 1 in 2 students feel anxious at least once a week, and nearly a quarter of students feel self-loathing over the same period of time.
36% of all respondents to the survey said they have had thoughts of self harm at least once a year, and 35% reported they had have thoughts of suicide over the same time period. 9% of respondents reported having suicidal thoughts at least once a week.
When students described the various sources of their mental distress, 77% cited exams and revision, 64% cited concern over grades and academic performance, and 60% cited worry over balancing studying with other commitments.
Of note was that 35% of students worry over employability, despite Imperial being ranked first in the UK for career prospects in a recent Guardian university league table.
When dividing the data by gender, it was interesting to note that females and males suffered from different causes of stress at different proportions.
For males, 73% cited exams and revision as a cause of stress, whilst 82% of females cited exams and revision as a cause. 56% of females cited low self-esteem as a cause of stress, whilst only 34% of males stated that self-esteem caused them mental distress too.
144 postgraduate students also filled in the survey, and 23% cited publication pressure as a cause for mental stress. 19% also stated that their relation with supervisor causes stress. 1 in 3 cited financial difficulties as something that lead to stress too.
When looking at the results collected from LGBT students, it was found that 38% of those that identify as either lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer find issues related to sexual orientation as causes for stress. Low self-esteem affected a higher proportion of LGBT students when compared to as a whole to the students who identify as heterosexual.
The survey also addressed what provisions students were aware were available at Imperial, and how many students had used in the past. 28% of students said they didn’t disclose their feelings of mental distress with anyone, although more than half did say they confided in friends. 20% said they saw a GP, and 13% said they approached their personal tutor.
Around 1 in 4 students who have been diagnosed with a mental illness said they did not access any of the support services at Imperial. Out of those who had used the services, 19% said they didn’t know where to find information about the services, whilst 16% said they had issues with long waiting times.
The survey was designed and ran by Imperial College Union campaign group Mentality, and collected data through an online questionnaire circulated last term.
Mentality has been campaigning throughout the year to raise awareness around mental wellbeing at Imperial, and educate students about the importance of mental health. The survey results were published in a report earlier this week.
The report included a list of recommendations for improvements that could be made to the services available, which included reviewing and improving the training of personal tutors, hall wardens and hall seniors, and the potential to set up a trained student peer support groups, which are proving beneficial to be in other universities across the country.
The report also outlined improvements that could be made to the Counselling services, including introducing “out of hours” support and extra provisions during more intense times of the year.
The Mentality campaign is lead by Beth Davison, a second year undergraduate student studying physics. She was inspired to start the campaign after suffering from depression in her first year of study.
The results of the survey were released earlier this week during the 7th Annual Welfare Seminar “The Problems students face,” that took place in the Royal School of Mines building. Beth, other students involved with the Mentality Campaign, and members of Imperial College Union staff presented the results to members of College staff present at the seminar.
The seminar was not open to students to attend. However representatives from Imperial College Union, including Union President Tom Wheeler, engaged in various panel discussions discussing developing student support and wellbeing services.
During the Mentality presentation, Andrew Keenan, Education and Welfare manager of Imperial College Union, told those at the Welfare seminar: “Academic difficulty should not be measured or even correlated with stress caused. The students who lead Mentality are aware that any working environment will have a level of stress, as I’m sure many staff around the room can testify to.
“But the ‘good stress’ that keeps you motivated and produces results can mutate into the bad stress that endangers your health and happiness.
We should not defend an overly stressful curriculum purely by claiming it is academically necessary. That is no defence at all.”
Keenan described how there is a need to eliminate the causes of such pressures, not just to address the symptoms. “Too often do we hear students who have pileups of coursework deadlines because their academics have not coordinated with each other.
“Too often do we hear of introductory talks at the start of the year where staff and older students talk up how scary and terrifying their workload is. We know there are projects underway in Chemistry and other departments to tackle this – we ask that every department does the same.”
Wheeler spoke to Felix about the survey after the seminar. Said Wheeler: “At Imperial College Union, we are immensely proud of the passionate, motivated students like Bethany who are out to enable ground-up progressive change for the student body at Imperial.
“The results that have come from the work Mentality has done is sending a clear, irrefutable message to every level of the institution.
“I am currently working to ensure that these messages are listened to and are not ignored.
“The Vice-Provost (Education), Provost and President of College are all aware of Mentality’s work, and from the conversations I’ve had so far, there is a clear commitment to working together and taking collaborative responsibility for the mental wellbeing of our community.”
Professor Debra Humphris, Vice Provost (Education), said: “I’m very grateful to Beth for her work on leading the Mentality campaign and producing this helpful report.
“We have a bright, hardworking and creative student community at Imperial, and we need to ensure they’re able to excel - both academically, and personally. To do this we need to ensure we are offering the appropriate services and support, and fostering a safe environment in which we can all talk openly about mental health and wellbeing without fear of stigma.”