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Mental health of 1 in 4 students affected by cost of living

Image of students working on their computers
Marvin Meyer | Unsplash

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

90% of university students have been affected by the cost of living crisis and 25% say that their mental health is being impacted by financial worries, according to new findings.

Over 4,500 UK university students responded to the survey conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS).

It found that the overwhelming majority of students are being impacted by the cost of living crisis, with 96% reporting that they are cutting their spending.

These cutbacks are being made by turning the heating on less and spending less money on food for over half of these students, while 10% are budgeting more for sanitary products and around one-third are going out with friends less.

According to the findings, over one-quarter of students have less than £50 to get through the month after covering rent and bills, while 42% were slightly better off with £100.

Most students felt they had little support from the government, with less than 10% reporting that they felt the government was doing enough to support them through the cost of living crisis.

Unsurprisingly, an increasing number of students are having to rely on their family or savings for support.

However, 77% said that someone that is financially supporting them has been negatively impacted by the cost of living crisis, demonstrating that these alternative forms of financial support are dwindling for students.

Despite newly introduced support for energy bills, no significant improvements for students were found since the survey was conducted in June 2022.

NUS Vice President of Higher Education, Chloe Field said:

“Two months into the academic year and students are still being ignored by the Government despite intense pressures on their incomes. It’s clear that students have not been considered in support schemes so far and with more than 1,000 asking their MP for help this week, the message from students could not be clearer ahead of the Budget.

“This is having a profound impact on all students. Students with caring responsibilities, who don’t have time to supplement their income, cannot get Universal Credit. International students, who pay higher tuition fees and Visa costs, are limited in the hours they can work. Students from poorer backgrounds, whose families cannot top up their loan, face the choice between working longer hours or dropping out completely.

“The Government must take action urgently to relieve the pressure and implement our proposals. Until they do, institutions must step in to support their students with the cost of food, rent, and energy. Students are our future nurses, teachers, and other key workers, and we need support now to protect everyone’s future.”

Mental illness most common among the poorest

New research has found that 1 in 2 people with a mental health issue have less than £100 in their savings, and over one-third have no savings at all, revealing how much the poorest are overwhelmingly affected by mental illness.

The results found that 15% of respondents had a mental health problem that had impacted them in the last year or more.

Of those individuals, 11% reported having £100 or less in savings and 39% said they had nothing.

The Money and Pensions Service conducted the survey to demonstrate that people with mental health issues are going to be more exposed to the dangers of the cost-of-living crisis, resulting in them being more likely to rely on credit for support.

“Getting into problems with money is stigmatised in society, debt is a taboo topic," said Debt Policy Manager from MaPS, Sarah Little. “People find the word loaded so we often talk about financial difficulties instead, which people feel more comfortable with.

“People can think that if you get in debt it means you’ve failed or done something wrong, but there are actually so many reasons why people run into difficulties, quite often it’s because of change of circumstances.”

Computer access a key indicator of young people's mental health

New findings published by the University of Cambridge have found that young people and adolescents with limited access to a computer experienced poorer mental health during COVID-19 lockdowns, with the end of 2020 being the hardest time for all.

Data was collected from 1,387 children aged 10-15 as part of the UK-wide longitudinal Understanding Society survey.

The focus was placed on access to computers and not smartphones, as at this age most social interactions happen at school and the majority of school work needs to be carried out on a computer.

For all children, levels of mental health were similar before the pandemic started and mental distress peaked at the end of 2020 before declining in March 2021.

However, children without computer access saw the biggest increases in mental distress, with 24% having scores of difficulty considered “high” or “very high”, compared with 14% from the group that had computer access.

One of the researchers, Tom Metherell said:

“Access to computers meant that many young people were still able to ‘attend’ school virtually, carry on with their education to an extent and keep up with friends. But anyone who didn’t have access to a computer would have been at a significant disadvantage, which would only risk increasing their sense of isolation.

“Young people’s mental health tended to suffer most during the strictest periods of lockdown, when they were less likely to be able go to school or see friends. But those without access to a computer were the worst hit – their mental health suffered much more than their peers and the change was more dramatic.”

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