It’s not every day that you come away from an event and feel physically moved from what you have learned, but this is exactly how we have felt in the aftermath of University Mental Health Day. Having had the privilege of speaking to students, staff and mental health professionals about their experiences dealing with mental health in the University environment we were shocked at how many people are affected by the ‘invisible illness’ on a daily basis.
Admitting to having mental health difficulties can be the turning point for many sufferers, however finding the courage – and the right forum – to discuss such sensitive and personal matters can be easier said than done. For this very reason, young people can slip further into the depths of depression and anxiety and an alarming number have even been known to take their own lives.
The best years of your life… in theory
University life is renowned for being one big party. The first taste of freedom, new cities, new faces, cheap booze… what’s not to love? In reality, the stereotype of ‘dosser students living it large’ couldn’t be further from the truth.
High tuition fees, crippling workloads and the pressure to excel in a course that will actually culminate in a job mean that student life can be pretty tough. Unsurprisingly, the University years can be a prime time for feelings of low mood or anxiety to start manifesting. This can be for all manner of reasons, including:
- For many students, University is the first time they have lived away from home. Strong feelings of homesickness can make it difficult to fully engage with student life.
- New courses and teaching styles can put students under a lot of pressure to keep up with their studies. Coursework, assignment deadlines and exams present additional stress.
- Limited finances can cause significant worries for students, as can the exhaustion of balancing a part time job with studies.
- Forging new friendships and relationships may be harder than anticipated.
- Excessive alcohol consumption, notorious with the student party scene can enhance feelings of low mood.
The fast pace of Uni life naturally means that everyone becomes preoccupied by their own deadlines and commitments, which means that other people’s suffering can easily go unnoticed. This is why mental health awareness is so important, to ensure that no one’s suffering goes beneath the radar.
Not every illness is visible
The problem with mental health difficulties is that they are not always outwardly visible to others, even to close friends. In fact, the sufferers will do all they can to ensure that no one
notices, and because the suffering is going on inside it is surprisingly easy to hide. But, as with all difficulties, the longer they are left untackled the more likely they are to grow.
Recognising the signs of low mood and anxiety in yourself and in others isn’t always easy, but it can be life changing. According to Mind, the mental health charity, these are are some of the things to look out for
You are not alone
To find out more about how mental health affects students on a daily basis we decided to get straight to the point and ask them! Rather than run an extensive, faceless survey we spoke personally to 22 students who are currently in the midst of university life. Here’s what we discovered:
- When asked if they had ever suffered from stress, anxiety or low mood whilst at Uni 20 out of the 22 students admitted that they had.
- In terms of seeking help, most felt able to turn to family and friends. Three of our interviewees successfully sought additional support through their University.
- All except two students said that they had witnessed depression amongst their friends whilst at University. When asked what signs they displayed common responses included: Distancing themselves, becoming quiet, unsociable, irritable and shutting themselves away in their room. Skipping lectures, not eating, irregular sleeping patterns and panic attacks were also mentioned.
- There were numerous areas that students considered to be stressful within Uni life, including: balancing Uni work, employment and social life, deadlines and exams, workload, peers, making friends, finances, loneliness, homesickness, placement and lack of routine.
- Mindfulness, yoga, getting outside, socialising, time management, positive thinking, prioritising health, CBT and exercise were cited as being effective tools for addressing stressful feelings.
- The overall response when we asked if there was sufficient support for mental health difficulties on campus was that students knew that there was support available but they weren’t sure how to access it. Many believed that there should be more awareness of the services available to students, it was also suggested that it would be beneficial to have specific group sessions and seminars on the subject.
- Embarrassment and lack of confidentiality was a key factor as to why students don’t seek help for mental health difficulties, as was judgement, the fear of being dismissed and not wanting to burden others. Interestingly, the perception that stress at Uni is ‘normal’ prevented one student from requesting support.
- The majority of the students that we spoke to were in complete agreement that eating well and exercising had a positive effect on their mental wellbeing.
Admittedly, we were slightly disheartened about the lack of awareness surrounding mental health and the support that is available in the University environment, however, we were encouraged at how keen the students were to talk about it.
Mental health is often perceived as a taboo subject that can be difficult to approach, but, as the above feedback suggests, it is a subject that certainly needs more air-time. Although we
only spoke to a small sample of students, the results are indicative of how mental health can affect everyone – be that personally or through a friend – at some time or other.
Increased awareness, encouragement to talk and lack of judgement are three elements that will help shatter any stigma surrounding mental health. ‘Normalising’ the subject through events such as University National Health Day will only serve to heighten this awareness, slowly but surely creating an inclusive and supportive network for all students.