The number of prospective students who declared a mental health condition when applying to university has risen by 450% over a decade, but more still needs to be done to tackle stigma, a report suggests.
But nearly half of students choose not to share information about their mental health with their chosen university or college, according to the university admissions service.
A report by Ucas suggests the most common reason is due to a lack of understanding about what the data will be used for, and the belief it will impact on their chances of receiving a university offer.
The data shows that 21,105 British applicants shared an existing mental health condition in their Ucas application in 2020 – nearly one in 25 – marking a 450% increase in declarations since 2011.
Despite this significant growth, there remains an equally significant number of students who choose not to declare.
The admissions service estimates that more than 74,000 students with an existing mental health condition entered higher education in 2020, but a Ucas survey of first-year students suggests 49% had not shared this information in their Ucas application, or by contacting their university or college directly.
Ucas said sharing this information early can help universities and colleges ensure that students have the right support available to help them to “succeed with their studies” and prevent drop-outs.
Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, said: “No student should be, or fear being, negatively impacted by disclosing a mental health condition.”
She added: “As a sector we know how important it is to eradicate outdated stigmas and meet the needs of all students.
“We recognise that, collectively, more needs to be done to ensure there is an awareness of the provision of services available and to remove any perception that opportunities could be restricted if an existing condition is disclosed.”
Overall, 3.7% of all UK applicants (21,105) declared a mental health condition in their application to study in 2020 – up from 0.7% (3,840) in 2011.
Alongside engineering, medicine and dentistry courses have the lowest declaration rates with only 1.4% of accepted applicants sharing an existing mental health condition, the report suggests.
Some LGBT+ students are around six times more likely to share a mental health condition, and women are 2.2 times more likely to declare a mental health condition than men, according to Ucas.
Rosie Tressler, chief executive of Student Minds, said: “Once you’re at university or college, asking for help with your mental health needs to feel as simple as saying you’re trying to find the right book in the library.
“We know that universities and colleges are working towards comprehensive whole-institution approaches to mental health, which will support and enable disclosure of health conditions at any and every stage of the student journey.
“The more our future students see how ingrained a mental health and wellbeing strategy is within and across an institution, the more confident they will feel that they are entering an inclusive environment that celebrates difference as a strength.”
She added: “This long-term investment is crucial especially as we know that many challenges will have been exacerbated by and will outlast the pandemic.”
A Universities UK (UUK) spokeswoman said: “Universities want to see all of their students thrive and succeed. Disclosing mental health conditions during the application process helps universities plan and provide the best support for students at the earliest possible stage.
“Universities are stepping up their efforts to support the education and wellbeing of Year 13s transitioning to higher education this autumn, particularly as these students will have faced so many challenges due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.
“It is also important to acknowledge that there continue to be significant increases in demand for university-funded support services.
“UUK has called on government to support student mental health with targeted funding for university wellbeing and mental health services and by commissioning student-facing NHS services, as set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.”