World Mental Health Day: 'emotional education' could help boost student mental health

Nadine Pinnock suspended her university studies because her depression and anxiety became too much to manage. She shares her journey and her hopes for tackling the student mental health problem

October 10 2019
World Mental Health day

Student mental health is at the forefront of many minds – in particular today, World Mental Health Day.

Last week, Fika, creator of the student emotional fitness app of the same name, published research revealing that 96 per cent of UK students believe that adding “emotional education” modules to the university curriculum could help to reverse the student mental health crisis.

Some 65 per cent of those surveyed thought that such modules would protect them from mental illness, and 52 per cent said it would help them understand how to take care of themselves and each other.

“Wellbeing education”, as a complement to student counselling, is a relatively new but exciting initiative.

Incorporating emotional education into the university curriculum could make a real difference to how students cope with one of the most exciting, formative yet challenging times of their lives.

Some 77 per cent of the students Fika surveyed reported struggling with the transition into university – but 60 per cent said they had not received any advice on how to cope with these challenges.

This research was of particular interest to me as earlier this year, I made the difficult decision to leave university during my third year because of my own mental health struggles.

I arrived at Cardiff University three years ago with pre-existing mental health conditions. Initially, I threw myself into the excitement of first year – assuring myself that university would be different and that I’d be able to cope.

By the end of that first year, however, my depression and anxiety had resurfaced, as ugly as ever. After a visit to the GP, I became one of the many young people who seek university counselling to help them through their student years.

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I had one introductory counselling session and was offered up to four biweekly catch-ups. I continued on and off for two years. I’m sure it helped a little – but I still felt myself spiralling.

By my third year, I had all but given up. I tried to distract myself, taking on mountains of extracurricular work, but this backfired. I completely burned out; my mental health deteriorated beyond anything I had experienced for years. I stopped completing assignments. I isolated myself from friends. I just gave up.

In January of this year, I emailed my personal tutor and course support team to ask about my options.

The next day, I met with them both, had an emotional conversation, and together we decided that it would be best if I temporarily withdrew from university to focus on my health.

By September 2020, I hope to have rebuilt myself enough to return to Cardiff and complete my studies.

Since making that tough decision, I have spent a lot of time thinking about student mental health and what can be done to prevent others having to go through what I did.

As waiting lists for student counselling continue to grow, reading the survey findings offered me new hope that there could be a brighter future for student mental health.

It would have been transformative for me to have been taught valuable lessons in how to manage myself emotionally on top of therapy – not just at school, but also at university, in among the seminars and lectures.

And how life-enhancing it could be, for a whole generation of students, to take time out from their studies to learn important life skills and boost their employability, relationships and careers.

Emotional education may not be the whole answer to the student mental health crisis – but it could certainly make a big difference.

Read more: Universities must adopt a proactive approach to mental health

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