The statistics around student mental health are well documented. One in four university students will experience a mental health condition and, compared with 10 years ago, five times more first-years come to university with a pre-existing mental health condition.
It’s not difficult to see why young people are struggling. The pressure at university is very real; to get the best grades, to have a thriving social life, to get the coolest internship. To lead a carefully curated life that draws the most likes on Instagram and Twitter.
This year’s World Mental Health Day focuses on “young people and mental health in the changing world” – a theme that couldn’t be more apt for university students.
So, if you’re a student and you’ve experienced any mental health symptoms, what can you do?
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The first thing to do is to speak to someone. It is daunting and terrifying and can feel like you are laying your most private emotions bare. But sharing just a little bit of what you are going through can help you get the support you need. Speak to a friend, a tutor, a parent or sibling; anybody you trust and feel comfortable with.
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone you know, your university health service could be another option. They will be able to direct you to the appropriate services for the symptoms you are experiencing. Alternatively, get in touch with your students’ union and find out if there is a peer support network, where you can speak to another student who is trained in mental health first aid.
There are also a number of charities that you can turn to for advice and resources. There are Student Minds and Nightline in the UK, Mental Health America and Active Minds in the US, Youth Mental Health Canada, Mental Health Europe and many more around the world.
Another way to protect your mental health is to practise self-care. That doesn’t just mean taking a bath, lighting some candles and listening to whale music, as many lifestyle magazines advise. While those things can help you feel better, self-care is more about understanding the things that make you truly happy and keep you physically and mentally healthy. It means looking after your diet, doing regular physical activity, slowing down when you’re feeling tired or burnt out, staying off social media and spending time with people who lift your mood.
There is no quick or easy way to fix mental ill health. If you have ever had anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, OCD or any other mental health condition you will know that it is not something you can “just snap out of”. “Cheering up” isn’t a helpful tip either. It can take a number of things, including therapy, counselling or medication. One or all of these things could eventually help you, and each case is different.
And if you suspect that a friend at university is experiencing poor mental health, reach out to them. Something as simple as asking them to go for a coffee, or inviting them over for dinner can make the world of difference to someone who is feeling stressed, anxious or depressed. Reassure them that their feelings are valid and that there are ways to tackle them. Look out for signs such as not attending lectures, feeling apathetic towards university, refusing to go out, eating less or outbursts of anger. If you continue to see these patterns, share your concerns with a trusted member of staff.
If a friend regularly rejects invitations to go out or says they are OK when you can see that they aren’t, don’t give up. It’s important to not be pushy, or force them into saying anything they aren’t comfortable with, but keeping an eye on them and inviting them to spend time with you shows that you care. Do not underestimate the power of simply asking someone “really, how are you?”
For more information on symptoms and services for mental health concerns please visit:
Student Minds – UK
Nightline – UK
Active Minds – US
The Jed Foundation – Canada
The Canadian Association of College and University Student Services – Canada
Mental Health Europe – Europe
Action for Mental Illness India – India
Required Reading is the regular blog from Times Higher Education student editor Seeta Bhardwa