What is it about?

Often student mental health is explored by providing large datasets on (1) the type and number of mental health disorders that students suffer from and (2) the number of students with mental health disorders. Despite being extremely valuable these studies do not explore the specific experiences that students with mental health problems face enrolled as a function of the degree on which they are enrolled. Of the studies that have explored student's mental health experiences on specific degrees, medical sciences such as Medicine, Midwifery and Nursing have been isolated. Despite Psychology students pursuing health related careers, this group of students have not been explicitly studied. Psychology students with mental health problems are specifically unique as their course requires them to learn about mental health disorders and their treatments. This study therefore aimed to explore the experiences that these students encounter as they navigate their way through university and their course. Twenty one-to-one interviews were carried out with undergraduate psychology students with mental health problems. It was found that: (1) student's experiences of mental health acted as a motivator to study psychology. Students wanted to learn more about the disorders they suffer from, gain the skills to help others and to help themselves. Some students elected to study psychology as a means of self-help but revealed they felt disappointed and naïve when the course did not provide therapeutic support. (2) Students explained that learning about different mental health disorders was distressing and symptom inducing. Some students even questioned the effectiveness of their treatments following lectures about mental health disorders. Interestingly due to living with mental health issues students chose to position themselves as the real experts in mental health. (3) Students had varied experiences with University support networks. Specifically students had a mix of experiences with support from course staff and University counsellors. The student-led telephone helpline was described as closed off to this group students due to the fear of being recognised by the high proportion of psychology students volunteering for the service.

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Why is it important?

This study has for the first time (to the authors' knowledge) has explored the unique experiences that psychology students with mental health problems face as they navigate through university and their course. We have provided specific insight into the specific challenges that this cohort of students face. Through this in depth enquiry this study has highlighted areas which can be addressed to improved these student's university experiences. Specifically, lecturers may wish to provide students with a pre-warning before mental health lectures to enable students to prepare for the potential distressing content. Also as psychology students with mental health problems position themselves as having expert knowledge in mental health, course staff and university counsellors could provide more effective support by acknowledging this unique position.


This article began life as a Masters thesis. The authors were committed to publish this piece of research in order to shine a light on the unique experiences that psychology students with mental health problems face. Rather than reducing student mental health to large scale statistical analyses, the authors were committed to exploring the individual. It is the authors' wish to have this research read by others (especially those who work in academia) to inspire similar student centred research and provoke positive changes at universities worldwide.

Vicky Woof
University of Manchester

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A qualitative exploration of the unique barriers, challenges and experiences encountered by undergraduate psychology students with mental health problems, Studies in Higher Education, August 2019, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1652809.
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