Risk 8: Mental health

Students may not experience an environment that is conducive to good mental health and wellbeing.


Students may experience mental ill health that makes it hard to cope with daily life, including studying. These difficulties may be pre-existing, or may develop during higher education study.  

Some students may have difficulties that are not formally diagnosed or treated, and may experience delays in receiving a diagnosis, treatment or support. Some students may not report mental health difficulties.

Where students do have an existing diagnosis, the transition point between adolescent and adult services may lead to delays in treatment.

Experiencing this risk is likely to impact a student on-course and at the progression stage.

Where students experience poor mental health, this may result in:

  • lower continuation rates and lower course attainment
  • it may also lead to lower progression rates into further study or the labour market.

Students who are:

  • from a low household income
  • disabled
  • mature
  • LGBT
  • care experienced.

Users of the EORR should be aware that this list has been compiled from evidence in the TASO rapid review which draws on evidence from a range of sources. Definitions of mental health and student characteristics may be different across the sources.

Note that the ordering does not denote a scale or ranking system.


It is important to consider how different student characteristics might interact with each other, and with school and areas-based characteristics. Providers may also wish to consider whether the mode of study heightens a risk. It is therefore recommended that providers consider intersectionality closely when looking at their own data.

For different groups of students, the impact of these risks that are visible in data might be:

  • low scores for NSS questions relating to mental health and wellbeing 
  • increasing and/or high proportions of students accessing provider-run wellbeing and counselling services
  • lower on-course attainment rates
  • Increased use and/or reporting of extenuating circumstances
  • lower continuation rates
  • lower completion rates
  • lower proportions of students progressing to further study
  • lower proportions of students progressing into employment.

Although this is a national risk, the extent to which it is seen at each provider may depend on factors such as:

  • entrance tariff
  • location
  • whether the provider recruits locally or nationally
  • the extent of on-course academic and personal support.

We therefore encourage providers to examine their own data to establish if this risk to equality of opportunity affects their current or potential student population.

‘A Briefing from the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers: Children and Social Work Bill’, Committee Stage. Alliance-Briefing-CSWB-Commons-Committee-Stage-Mental-Health-Assessments.pdf (Accessed 11 December 2023) (tactcare.org.uk)

Bachmann, C.L. and Gooch, B. (2018) ‘LGBT in Britain: Health report. Stonewall Group’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

Benson-Egglenton, J. (2019) ‘The financial circumstances associated with high and low wellbeing in undergraduate students: a case study of an English Russell Group institution’. Journal of Further and Higher Education. 43 (7), 901–913. doi:10.1080/0309877X.2017.1421621.

Bland, B. & Shaw, J. (2015) ‘New Starts: The challenges of Higher Education without the support of a family network’. Unite Foundation & Standalone

Britt, S.L., Mendiola, M. R., Schink, G.H., Tibbetts, R.H. and Jones, S.H. (2016). ‘Financial Stress, Coping Strategy and Academic Achievement in College Students’. 

Department for Education (2016). ‘Outcomes for children looked after, 2016’ (Accessed 11/12/2023)

Department for Education and Department of Health (2015), ‘Promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children – Statutory guidance for Local Authorities, clinical commissioning groups and NHS England’, 2015

Harrison, N. (2017) ‘Moving on up. National Network for the Education of Care Leavers’

Lewis, G., McCloud, T. & Callender, C. (2021) ‘Higher education and mental health: analyses of the LSYPE cohorts’. Department for Education

Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 24 February 2023, ONS website, statistical bulletin, ‘Cost of living and higher education students, England: 30 January to 13 February 2023’. (Accessed 12/12/2023)

Office for Students (2023) ‘Insight brief 19. Protecting students as consumers’. 

TASO (2023) ‘Rapid review to support development of the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

UCAS ‘Next Steps: What is the experience of LGBT+ Students in Education?’ (Accessed 12/12/2023)

UCAS ‘Next Steps: What is the experience of students from a care background in education?’ (Accessed 05/12/2023)

Welbourne, P. and C. Leeson (2012) ‘The education of children in care: a research review’, Journal of Children’s Services, 7(2), 128-14.

Published 29 March 2023
Last updated 18 January 2024
18 January 2024
We have published a list of references that informed this risk.

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