Addressing the issue of student mental health
It’s increasingly hitting the headlines, and for good reason too. Mental health, particularly amongst students, is an increasing cause for concern. While funds have increased for university mental health services, this is widely still not considered enough. Despite the best efforts of universities nationwide, university healthcare systems have become inundated with problems encountered due to mental health, thus they are not always a reliable or quick source of external help. With more students coming forward to say that they are struggling with issues such as depression and anxiety, it is increasingly apparent that students should employ as much effort as possible to help themselves.
An awareness of mental health is fundamental when entering life as a university student. Mental illness can become an issue in the lives of the most seemingly unlikely people; it is likely to affect almost every student, whether it be experienced directly or by someone you may know. Firstly, it is vital to regard issues of mental health with understanding and sensitivity. If you become aware that somebody is struggling with their mental health, know that the smallest thing such as a friendly text or inviting them out for a coffee can make an enormous difference to them.
The first thing to keep in mind is that feelings of stress and being overwhelmed can often arise alongside feelings of being out of control. By planning your week ahead and your work schedule to ensure that you remain on top of your work, you take an excellent first step towards the maintenance of mental clarity and calmness. By accompanying this with regular exercise and healthy eating habits (as much as possible amidst the temptations of take-aways and microwave meals which arise to almost every new student), you really will see the correlation between a healthy body and a healthy mind.
While keeping organised is important, downtime is equally as vital to your mental wellbeing. The worst feelings often arise when one feels isolated. Whether you talk to a friend, a family member, a course tutor or someone from the university support services, try to voice your feelings and talk through your concerns and remember that there are always people to talk to. Try to maintain contact with your friends, both at home and at university. There will undoubtedly be times when the last thing in the world that appeals to you is socialising, yet try to push yourself as much as you can to see your friends. Sometimes a distraction from your thoughts is needed to break a negative cycle of thinking. No matter how big or small that social outing may be, it will help, honestly!
Taking time out of your day to write a diary may provide an outlet for some of the emotions conjured up by mental health issues, although this does not work for everyone. A mindfulness app on Android or iPhone called ‘Headspace’ is highly recommended by professionals for sufferers of mental health, providing meditation exercises to re-centre oneself and calm any potentially destructive thoughts.
Ultimately, it is vital to know that support is always available. University support services are widely available, often providing access to counselling. Talking to your doctor is also a viable option, where the most appropriate course of action can be discussed if you are really struggling, whether this be self-help strategies, therapy or medication. The charity ‘Samaritans’ is also available to those who feel the need to talk to someone immediately.
University is a time of significant transition. It is important to understand that no one is expected to have everything figured out while they are there. To live independently, with an increasing workload and an intensified social situation, is something that most people will struggle with in one sense or another. By maintaining an awareness of the above techniques, while also having an awareness of the support out there, students may begin to tackle the issues posed by mental illness. By addressing these issues, students will be collectively enabled to focus on the wealth of opportunities that lay ahead in their future.
- By Ellen Hennessy