Mental Health of Nursing Students

In our #ebnjc blog series we have already celebrated children’s nursing; with blogs from Jayne Pentin, Kirsten Huby & Marcus Wootton, learning disability nursing; with blogs from Professor Ruth Northway, Jonathan Beebee & Amy Wixey, midwifery; with blogs from Louise Silverton CBE , Gina Novick & Lynsey Wilgaus, and adult nursing from Clare McVeigh, Professor Roger Watson, Professor Jan Dewing & Professor Elizabeth Robb

This week our #ebnjc December blog series concludes with four guest blogs on mental health nursing from Neil Withnell, Jessie McGreevy, Paul Canning & Peter Jones.

Today we welcome Paul Canning, a lecturer in mental health nursing from Queen’s University Belfast, who discusses the possible unmet need in relation to the mental health of nursing students.


The mental health of nursing students- an unmet need?

Throughout my career as a mental health nurse I have been fortunate to learn from, and to have been supported by, some very exceptional people. It was my hope that I may bring some of that experience to my teaching, that I may act as a role model for aspiring mental health nurses. An excellent article challenged those of us who work and teach in this field not just to ‘talk the talk, but to walk the talk’ (McCaig et al, 2014). Ironically, therefore, one of the biggest challenges I face whilst teaching is how best to support students who themselves experience mental ill health.

There are numerous reasons why students may experience mental ill health; managing the transition to higher education, distance from family, academic expectations, finances, peer pressure. In fact it has been suggested that the transition to that of student and the profession of nursing may place nursing students at a higher risk of suicide than other students (Goetz cited in Leal & Santos, 2016).

Student mental health and wellbeing has recently received renewed attention. National campaigns have highlighted this topic as one that requires the appropriate consideration and resources if it is to be addressed adequately. However, this is not a new topic and it has been raised in the past. A survey by the National Union of Students Scotland (NUS) (NUS, 2011) highlighted student concerns such as exams, completion of assignments, worries over future careers and finances among others. Of note was the fact that only 30% felt comfortable disclosing mental health concerns and 80% of those surveyed reported that it was stigma that acted as a barrier to seeking help.

More recently, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on students discussed the results of another NUS survey on student mental health. Findings suggest that the majority of students suffer mental health issues. Media reporting of the survey suggest that 78% stated they had experienced a mental health difficulty in the past year, 54% of those stated that they did not inform anyone and almost a third said that they would not know who to inform. 33% described having had suicidal thoughts. Of further concern was the fact that 40% worried about how any such disclosure may be perceived within the institution (Guardian, 2015).

In a world dominated by academic standards, research grant applications and any other number of metrics, educational institutes must not lose focus on the role and responsibility it has to support the mental health of its student population. Consideration must be given to students when they are at their most vulnerable to academic stressors such as those in their final year of study, those living away from home and to those with pre-existing health conditions (Leal & Santos, 2016).  Resilience may also be bolstered by the inclusion of stress management classes within nurse education curriculums in the future (Ranjbar, 2016). Stigma must be challenged at all levels.

As a nursing profession it is surely our responsibility to ensure that those who have made the commitment to study towards entry onto the nursing register receive our full support, as we have in the past. We must therefore continue to advocate on behalf of the student group, to continue to highlight this area as one of high importance. By doing so, we not only support the students of the present, but the nursing workforce of the future and ultimately the patients we care for.

Paul Canning, Lecturer (Education) Mental Health Nursing  @PaulCanning3



BBC News (2015) University fund for struggling students ‘under threat’. [Online] Available

Leal, S.C. & Santos, J.C. (2016) Suicidal behaviors, social support and reasons for living among nursing students. Nurse Education Today. Vol. 36. Pp 434-438.

McCaig, M., McNay, L., Howatson, V., McCormack, J., McIntosh, G., Mathers, B. (2014) Do mental health nurse lecturers ‘walk the talk’, as well as ‘talk the talk’? British Journal of Mental Health Nursing. Vol. 3(5). pp 223–228.

National Union of Students Scotland (2011) Silently Stressed: A survey into student mental wellbeing   Available –

Ranjbar, H. (2016) Stress Management: An ignored Challenge in Clinical nursing education. Nurse Education Today. Vol. 36. Pg 10

The Guardian (2015) Majority of students experience mental health issues, says NUS survey. [Online] Available


EBN Recommends:

  1. Kurtz, M. (2013) ‘Cross-sectional study: In individuals with schizophrenia, duration and severity of mental illness, health status, mutuality, employment and household income influence quality of life ‘, Evidence Based Nursing, 16, (3), pp. 79-80
  2. Gulliver, A. (2015) ‘Cross-sectional study: A range of personality traits and health beliefs influence mental health help-seeking behaviour in young people’, Evidence Based Nursing, 18, (4), pp. 117.
  3. Haddad, M. (2010) ‘Cross sectional survey: Different attitudes towards mental health revealed in a survey of nurses across five European countries; more positive attitudes found in Portugal, in women and in those in senior roles’, Evidence Based Nursing, 13, (4), pp. 128-129.
  4. Gaskin, C. and Hardy, S. (2015) ‘The state of play in child and adolescent mental healthcare services (England): not in front of the children?’, Evidence Based Nursing, 18, (3), pp. 1.
  5. Dr Alison Twycross and Dr Peter Mills Podcast on Self harm within inpatient psychiatric services.

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