Student wellbeing statistics

Students are particularly vulnerable to high levels of stress. Independent learning, new social pressures and dealing with adult responsibilities can all weigh heavily on student minds. 

In 2019, researchers studying mental health among college students in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland found high levels of mental health problems, especially in the Republic of Ireland. A follow up study in 2020 found significantly increased levels of depression, particularly among students in NI.

The years of attending higher education are a critical time to create a culture of positive mental health through intervening and preventing further consequences related to mental health problems

State of Mind Ireland-Higher Education: A Mixed-Methods Longitudinal Evaluation of a Positive Mental Health Intervention

Global and European research, evidence and statistics

World health organisation world mental health international college student initiative

The World Health Organisation World Mental Health International College Student Initiative (WMH-ICS) is an ongoing project researching mental health issues for college students across the world. Its aims are to

  • promote the mental health and wellbeing of college students by documenting the high prevalence and substantial societal costs of mental disorders amongst college students
  • implement evidence-based interventions to prevent the onset of mental disorders and provide early treatment of disorders
  • engage in continuous quality improvements to refine interventions targeted to students over time
  • develop and test internet-based programs for prevention and early intervention of mental health problems

In its overview, published in December 2018,  WMH-ICS sets out why the aims and objectives of the initiative, and summarises existing research that demonstrates why college years are a developmentally crucial period:

  •  there is strong evidence to suggest that mental disorders during ages 17-24 can have profound negative effects on the development of college students including employment prospects, relationship functioning and health
  • students with mental disorders are twice as likely as other students to drop out without obtaining a degree
  • randomized trials comparing internet-based and face-to-face interventions for mental disorders indicate no significant difference in effectiveness where these interventions are guided by professional therapists

Read the full WMH-ICS overview article


A comparative analysis of mental health among higher education students

This study was carried out by nationals unions of students across Europe and published by the European Students’ Union in 2022. Representatives from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland participated in the 2020 study, with representatives from the Republic of Ireland taking part in the 2021 follow up study.

Key findings include

  • mental health has moved up the agenda of national unions of students since the COVID-19 pandemic
  • representatives in both Ireland and Northern Ireland believed that waiting lists for mental health care services provided as part of the national health care system are too long
  • when asked if government takes initiative to break any stigma regarding mental health representatives from Northern Ireland agreed, but representatives in Ireland disagreed

Read the full analysis by European Students’ Union

Lifetime and 12-month treatment for mental disorders and suicidal thoughts and behaviours among first year college students

This study was carried out as part of the WHO’s WMH-ICS initiative with the aim of examining the receipt of mental health treatment among college students cross-nationally.

Building on data suggesting that many students with mental disorders or suicidal thoughts and behaviours rarely seek treatment, the study concludes that there is high unmet need for treatment of mental disorders among college students and recommends reallocating resources to focus on innovative, low-threshold, inexpensive and scalable interventions.

Read the study

Ireland, Northern Ireland and UK evidence and research

My world survey 2, Jigsaw, 2022

This study aimed to identify risk and protective factors for mental health across student cohorts to guide mental health provision. It sampled students from across third-level institutions in Ireland

Key findings include

  • College was identified as a stressor by 68% of participants. It was the top stressor identified by the report. 
  • 65% of participants in college reported often feeling stressed by the pressure to work outside their college course
  • 20% of participants were classified as being in the moderate range for depression with 23% in the severe to very severe range for depression
  • 54% of female participants and 39% of male participants were identified as being in the moderate to very severe range for anxiety
  • Almost 40% of participants said they did not talk about their problems

Read the full My World Survey 2 report


CIBYL Student Mental Health Research study, 2022

CIBYL surveyed 12,261 students and graduates across 147 universities in the UK to gain insights into the reality of student and graduate life in 2022.

Key findings include

  • 81% of students said they had been directly touched by mental health difficulties
  • 43% of those directly touched by mental health difficulties said their mental health had declined since starting university
  • 45% of those surveyed said that mental health provision was somewhat or very important when choosing a university
  • 53% of those surveed indicated that they feel lonely at least once a week

Read the full Student Mental Health Study 2022


University Mental Health Charter Framework, 2020

The University Mental Health Charter framework is a set of evidence-informed principles to support universities to adopt a whole-university approach to mental health and wellbeing.

It is composed of 18 themes and provides examples of good practice within each of these themes. The themes are

  • staff wellbeing
  • staff development
  • proactive interventions and a mentally healthy environment
  • social integration and belonging
  • residential accommodation
  • physical environment
  • leadership, strategy and policy
  • student voice and participation
  • cohesiveness of support across the provider
  • inclusivity and intersectinal mental health
  • research, innovation and dissemination

Read the full University Mental Health Charter framework

National student mental health and suicide prevention framework, HEA, 2020

The Higher Education Authority developed this framework to support higher education institutions in Ireland address the issues of student mental health and suicide prevention in a structured and planned way.

Institutions can use the framework to review and reflect on their own provision for student mental health support. The framework’s themes are

  • Build and support national and institutional strategies for student mental health
  • Develop partnerships on campus an din the community with health services to support student mental health
  • Build campus knowledge and skills on student mental health and suicide prevention
  • Create campus communities that are connected, safe, nurturing, inclusive and compassionate
  • Prioritise awareness training for all staff and students to enhance recognition and referral
  • Provide students with safe, accessible and well-resources mental health support
  • Ensure that institutions have the critical incident protocols required for varying levels of student mental health crisis
  • Establish student supports throughout the higher education journey
  • Collect and analyse data to inform measures to improve student mental health

Read the full National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework


USI national report on student mental health, 2019

The Union of Students in Ireland carried out research throughout 2018 and 2019 to provide insight into student mental health in Ireland.

Key findings include

  • Almost a third of students had a formal diagnosis of mental health difficulties at some point in their life
  • 38.4% of students were extremely severely anxious
  • 29.9% of students were extremely severely depressed
  • 17.2% of students were extremely severely stressed
  • 28.4% of students said mental health difficulties often impacted on their studies

Read the full USI student mental health report

Mental health, Self-harm & Suicide in university students in Northern Ireland, 2018

This Ulster University student wellbeing study, carried out as part of the WHO’s WHM-ICS initiative, assessed psychopathology and associated risk and protective factors in first year students.

Key findings include

  • 53.2% of students had experienced a mental health disorder at some point in their lives
  • The highest prevalence rates were for panic attacks (41.2%), suicidality (31%), major depressive episode (24.2%) and generalised anxiety disorder (22.6%)
  • 10% of new entry students received treatment for emotional problems in the previous year
  • A fifth of students with problems said they would not seek help
  • Self-harm and suicidal behaviour was evidence in 31% of students

Read a summary of the work presented as part of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s knowledge exchange seminar series