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Friday, 25 August 2017

Half of University students suffer mental health issues because of money problems

The National Student Money Survey 2017 also reveals gender gap in mental health and money skills among UK university students.
  • HALF of all students experience mental health issues because of money worries - and it particularly affects female students
  • Female students also more likely to skip meals when money is tight: 63% say lack of cash takes a toll on diet, compared to 55% of males
  • Just a third of those who turn to their uni find it easy to get financial support or advice.
UK students are shockingly unequipped to handle their money and mental well being when starting university, a report by Save the Student has revealed.

The National Student Money Survey – conducted each year by the student money site – finds students are being loaded up with loans, high living costs and big financial decisions without the knowledge and support they need to cope.

Just 1 in 4 students feel they were taught enough about money before starting university, with a worrying 50% saying they’ve since experienced mental health issues because of a lack of cash.

Jenna, a 2nd-year student at Loughborough University, admits she was clueless about money – to the extent that she didn’t even know her bank card would be blocked if she used the wrong pin too many times. She told Save the Student she became anxious about staying on budget:
I would skip meals so I didn't have to spend any money. When things then got to my lowest and I lost all motivation to live I began spending excessively to try and make myself feel better. This didn't work and I ended up having multiple suicide attempts and taking anti-depressants. When I finally started recovering I then had to work 2 jobs to try and make my way out of the debt I had created in that crisis period.”

With the survey pegging student spending at £821 a month (£31 up on 2016 results), the gap between living costs and the Maintenance Loan has widened. This can leave the average student short by around £221 every month.

Ruby gave up a part-time job in her second year at the University of Lincoln, just before her Student Finance was reduced. She’s one of the 55% of students who say the Maintenance Loan isn’t enough to live on:
“I went from receiving a decent amount of money from the government to the minimum which didn't even cover my rent as my mother had received a promotion … I spent most of my time on my own in my room. I couldn't sleep and whenever I did, it was only for a couple of hours at a time. I just felt tired all the time. I would be constantly panicking about money. I started missing a lot of lectures and seminars.”

Although the majority of students (83%) track their spending, budgeting isn’t enough to offset the problems of low income. Sasha, who studied at the University of Derby, says she ran short of money when Student Finance lost her paperwork and her loan was delayed:
When it came I hadn't eaten in 3 weeks except for what I could take from the cafe I worked at (with permission). I lost about 3 stone due to worry and lack of food. At one point I thought of going to a food bank but was too ashamed.”

When things go wrong, most students turn to their families: 83% of students say they’d ask their parents for cash in an emergency. But of those who ask their university, only around a third (37%) find it easy to get help. Sasha adds:
I didn't really have anyone I could ask for help personally as my mum is on a low wage as it is and was struggling herself. I didn't want to ask the bank for a loan/overdraft as I didn't think I would be accepted and didn't want to get into more debt.”

While most students struggle with hardship at university, the National Student Money Survey finds male and female students report different levels of stress.
Overall, more female students (87%) said they worry about having enough to live on, compared to 77% of males. Women are also more dissatisfied with the financial education they’d received before university, and less likely to consider their course good value for money.

Male students are more optimistic about life after university, with 62% confident of finding a job after graduation (compared to 45% of female students), and expect £3k more from their starting salary (£23,139 vs £20,010).

The majority of students, however, remain confused and concerned about the Student Loan. Despite repayments being linked to salary affordability, 56% worry about paying it back, while only 1 in 4 know the current rate of interest being applied to their loan (which notably jumps as high as 6.1% this September).

Jake Butler, student money expert, from Save the Student says:
“The new tuition fee increases, along with pitiful maintenance loans, are putting students under a huge amount of financial and mental stress.
There is still a severe lack of basic financial education at school, and universities must make advice and support more accessible for students who find themselves in a difficult situation.
The government announced that they’re looking to increase the number of mental health specialists in the NHS, but in the case of students they should be addressing the root cause before mental health problems can take hold.”

Stephen McCartney, Chair of the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA), comments:
“It is important to remember that many students are engaged in more than just their academic careers. While also studying full time, many are juggling employment and family responsibilities, which can add to their stress and anxieties.”

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