The Student
Tuition fees are not responsible for rise in mental health issues
by Bethan Morrish, 23/03/16

Recent statistics suggest that the 2010 rise in tuition fees is the cause of a significant rise in students seeking support for mental health issues, causing further protest at the £9,000 a year cap. These statistics noted that there has been a 28 per cent rise overall in the number of students seeking support between 2010-11 and 2014-15, and here in Edinburgh, the number has risen an astonishing 75 per cent in the same time. These statistics prove that students’ mental health is an enormous issue that needs to be tackled, but they do not prove their mental health is deteriorating as a result of the rise in tuition fees. Yes, this is undoubtedly a factor, but it is lazy and naive to suggest that it is the only cause.

It is undeniable that the enormous tuition fees that hang over the heads of students have an extremely negative impact on our lives.

In my view, the problem with tuition fees comes in two strands: the commercialisation of education, and the unpredictability of employment making fees seem impossible to pay off. First, students are acutely aware of how much their education is costing, and the direct result is that the relationship formed between student and institution is extremely negative. In order to ‘get our money’s worth’ it feels necessary to not only be achieving top grades, but also to be building a strong extra-curricular profile that looks good to employers. Balancing this with a social life, and maintaining a good mental and physical health is nigh-on impossible.

But to argue that tuition fees are the only reason for the astonishing rise in students seeking support for mental health issues shows a naivety of the daily pressures of student life. The disparate provision of maintenance loans makes it incredibly difficult to live in more expensive cities, including Edinburgh, without another income – whether a part time job or reliance on parents. Furthermore, house prices and other living costs are rising, with no changes to maintenance loans, making simply existing as a student increasingly difficult.

It might be a cliché, but social media has been proven to have a negative impact on mental health, and as something that affects students on a day-to-day basis, is a likely factor in the reported rise in those seeking support. Upon starting university, we are told it will be the best time of our life, and social media only exacerbates this expectation by encouraging people to publish this online. We only put our best side forward on social media, and so it appears that everyone else is having an amazing time all the time. Our expectations merge with the filtered world we see online to breed feelings of loneliness, inadequacy and general negativity.

The fact of the matter is that life is difficult for students in ways that older generations struggle to comprehend, and this is not simply limited at having to pay vast tuition fees. This seems to have manifested itself in a general lack of successful support systems in UK universities. In recent years there has been a move towards providing more support for students struggling with mental health issues, but the release of these statistics demonstrates that so much more needs to be done.

Image: Ivan Hernández