University mental health: taking student well-being seriously
On University Mental Health Day, universities must encourage students to open up about their experiences
Recent research found that 71 per cent of 2,460 students currently experience or have experienced some form of mental illness including depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
Another statistic from this research, which universities should sit up and take notice of, is that 40 per cent of these students would much rather conceal their condition than discuss it with a mental health professional, stating that they would feel “too ashamed” or “too worried” to speak up. This piece of research was conducted by the Student Housing Company.
This is, unfortunately, just one study in a long line revealing that a significant number of students are experiencing mental health conditions and are needlessly attempting to “power through” in an attempt to maintain a public persona of coping.
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Today, marks the fifth University Mental Health Day, which was set up by the University Mental Health Advisers Network in association with charity Student Minds and members of the Alliance for Student-Led Wellbeing.
The aim of the day is to raise awareness of mental health issues among university faculty and students and encourage more people to open up about their experiences.
Lydia Chaplain, a committee member of the University Mental Health Advisers Network, said that “most universities now employ mental health advisers, who would be happy to answer any questions you have about your own or someone else’s mental health. Check out your university’s student support services to see what’s available.” This is also excellent advice for students in the process of choosing an institution – does it have established support processes in place?
Stress is believed to be one of the biggest triggers for a mental health condition. The pressure to achieve good marks, undertake work experience, have a thriving social life and stay out of debt can leave students feeling exhausted and burned out, which can unfortunately become a precursor to developing a mental health condition. Homesickness or loneliness are other contributory factors.
Chaplain says that balance is the ultimate tool in fighting mental health conditions and “treating your studies like a full-time job, giving yourself a start and end time and regular breaks, can help you maintain a good work-life balance and minimise stress”, and that setting realistic goals and expectations and staying organised can also really help.
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Other research, carried out by YouthSight and YouGov at the end of 2016, found that one in eight students experience a mental health condition and those who do are more likely to end up dropping out of college. Conversations and early intervention are perhaps the most effective ways of ensuring that these conditions aren’t left to flourish, resulting in student dropouts.
James Elliot, NUS disabled students officer, said that “increasing numbers of students tell us [that] they are experiencing and seeking support for mental health difficulties”.
He says that University Mental Health Day provides an important opportunity to galvanise both the student community and the higher education sector to address a range of factors that impact on student mental health including housing, physical health, academic pressure, financial worries and the need to work.
“We welcome initiatives that support students to look after their own physical and mental health, but urge universities to properly fund and provide high-quality mental health support services that are a lifeline for many students,” he adds.
The theme of this year’s University Mental Health Day is around the relationship between physical and mental health and how an active lifestyle may help mental health conditions. Universities across the country have organised classes and events to encourage students into thinking about their wider physical and mental health.