Credit: Newscast Online

Research indicates mental health crisis in young women and non-binary people


Credit: Newscast Online

Georgina Hayes

Research released by Fearless Femme today shows that young female and non-binary students at universities and colleges across the UK have become fearful of the future owing to mixture of exam stress, career pressures, course workloads and financial debt.

Over the last nine months, Fearless Femme has been carrying out a research programme aimed at examining the causes of mental ill-health for young female and non-binary students. The results of this programme were today published in Fearless Femme’s first research report, “Fear of the Future? A Research Report on the Mental Health of Young Women and Non-Binary Students”.

The research indicates that there is a crisis in the mental health of young women and non-binary people in higher and further education.

  • 65% of respondents had a mental health condition when they started university
  • 90% of respondents did not disclose their mental health condition prior to arrival at university
  • 81% felt that exam rhetoric had a negative effect on their mental health
  • 45% believed “less fearful rhetoric” would help them manage the stresses of exam time
  • 89% felt that post-graduation depression or the “Graduate Blues” was a real thing
  • 83% felt a more honest narrative in education about “failure” would help them transition from higher and further education to employment

Fearless Femme’s research explored the under-researched intersection between mental health, gender and student life. It was based on a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, including surveys, polls and in-depth case studies with young female and non-binary people. The report draws on over 1000 responses from Fearless Femme’s magazine readers, social media followers and volunteer writers and artists based at universities and colleges across the UK.

The rationale behind focusing on these groups is because young women, non-binary people and students are considered to be at greater risk of mental illness than the general population.

For instance, research by Girlguiding has found that 46% of young women aged 17-21 are affected by mental ill-health; the Scottish Trans Alliance has found that 65% of non-binary people have poor mental health due to discrimination; and a survey by the National Union of Students revealed that 78% of students have experienced mental health issues at some point in their studies.

Fearless Femme is campaigning to improve student mental health services both during and after university and college, when many students experience a “post-graduation” dip in their mental health. Their policy recommendations include more pre-arrival student mental health support, campus-wide wellbeing campaigns and resources to raise the visibility of mental health services, the introduction of flexibilities around exams and assessment for students with mental health conditions, a continuation of institutional support for students in the first 12 months after graduation, and a more honest narrative in universities and colleges about failure and managing expectations.

Fearless Femme founder and CEO Dr Eve Hepburn said: “This research report underlines the importance of mapping the mental health journeys of young adults as they travel through the education system into their first jobs. We discovered specific points of stress as people made the transition from school to university/ college, and from university/college to employment. We know that universities and colleges are focussed on tackling the growing crisis in student mental health, and we believe focussing on these transitions through tailored support would be of great help.”

She added, “We also found that young female and non-binary students feel so pressured to succeed in all aspects of their academic life that many have become fearful of the future. We hope to work with universities to find a way to change the narrative on failure, and alleviate the pressures that young people face, in order to tackle the mental health crisis among this generation.”

Fearless Femme is an Edinburgh-based, non-profit mental health project, magazine, research hub and creative community aiming to “empower young people to overcome stress, anxiety and the challenges that life throws at them”. The social enterprise launched in February this year at an event, attended by the Minister for Mental Health, the Principal of The University of Edinburgh, and leaders in the worlds of mental health, equalities and education.


Share this story

Follow us online