The number of students leaving university because of mental health problems increased by 210 per cent in five years, The Guardian reported.

Data compiled by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) showed that a record 1,180 students left their courses in 2014-2015, compared to just 380 in 2009-2010. The data from 2014-2015 is the most recent year of data available.

In light of the report, UK universities have been urged to ensure the right support is in place for students who may be facing such difficulties.

Student health GP, Dominique Thompson, noted that many students struggle with the change from school to university education, and said that universities could better help students with study skills, as well as “a wide range of mental health and wellbeing options”.

Others commented that the rise in students dropping out could be attributed to a greater awareness of services and less of a taboo surrounding mental health.

Additional data obtained by The Guardian showed that the number of students seeking counselling services increased by 28 per cent between the year 2013-2014 and 2015-2016.

Despite this, it also found that many universities are making cuts in this area, and students are facing waiting times of up to 55 days.

According to their annual report, the University Counselling Service at the University of Cambridge saw 1,570 students in the year 2014-2015, representative of 8.6 per cent of the student population. 

A report made by the Counselling Service said that 93 per cent agreed that counselling helped them deal with their difficulties. 

Their website currently states that waiting times are: “1-2 weeks depending on availability”.

“If intermission rates are rising, this doesn't necessarily indicate more [students] struggling."

The statistics from HESA come after the University of Cambridge decided earlier this year to review its guidelines on intermission - the process that allows sick students to take a break from their studies.

Students may choose to intermit because of mental or physical health problems, however it could also be due to a range of reasons such as financial difficulties, changing tripos, taking time out to work or taking parental leave.

The process is distinct from dropping out, because although some students intermit and do not return whilst others do return and some drop out without first intermitting.

A Varsity report published last November found a number of serious issues with the process, including an inadequate understanding of mental health issues by some senior staff, a lack of support for returning students, and the persistence of archaic rules such as banning intermitting students from the city. 

Of 30 universities contacted by The Guardian in 2016, Cambridge was the only one that requires ill students to sit an exam when they return, although a similar system is known to operate in some colleges at the University of Oxford. 

Although there are disparities between genders, colleges, and subjects, the total numbers of intermitting students at Cambridge are increasing in line with national figures for students dropping out.

As the Varsity report revealed, between the year 2010-2011 and 2015-2016, the number of intermitting students rose from 195 to 250, and over the entire six-year period, approximately 17.5 per cent - 228 out of 1,301 - never returned to Cambridge.

Speaking to Varsity about the HESA statistics, CUSU Welfare Officer, Sophie Buck, said that there could be many reasons behind the increase in students dropping out: “perhaps due to rising university fees and greater uncertainty about post-university plans, or even, more generally, related to the growth of social media. It could also be due to increased awareness about mental health problems”.

Whilst she acknowledged that many intermitting students at Cambridge do experience mental health problems, Buck was keen to discourage any comparisons between the national statistics and the intermission rate at Cambridge.

Referencing a 2011 campaign to reduce the stigma surrounding intermission and to increase awareness of it as an option, she said, “if intermission rates are rising, this doesn't necessarily indicate more [students] struggling.

"For students experiencing serious mental health problems, intermission is intended as a period to allow them to recover, usually with the expectation that they return to their studies; and so intermission rates rising is not necessarily a bad thing”.

A spokesperson for the University said, “The University of Cambridge and its colleges take student mental health very seriously and do everything we can to ensure that our students study and live in an environment in which they feel supported and safe”.

They also emphasised the wide range of support services available to students beyond the University Counselling Service, including the Disability Resource Centre, specialists such as nurses, chaplains and personal tutors in each college, and the undergraduate and graduate students’ unions at both college and University level

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