University students and mental health
I have said this many times in my blog posts, but mental health is talked about more than ever, with the stigma of it decreasing all the time. However, people may still struggle with recognising they need help or knowing where to go to get it. Students this year have, more than ever, had to overcome and get used to a new normal with how exams and school work were impacted on due to the global pandemic, and so it is important to understand that for those going to university this year, there may be further struggles as students adjust to a new stage in their lives.
Going to university is a big thing for anyone, especially for those moving away from home, and so I think it is important for people to understand the challenges students may encounter that could have an impact on their mental health. Research has found that students have a higher risk of developing mental health problems, and many first experience them or first seek help for them when they are at university. Reasons for this may include the age of students; a large number of students are under the age of 25 and three-quarters of adults who have a mental illness have their first episode before they are 25; lack of support – being away from home for the first time, not seeing loved ones enough, or not having a good support network can make a student vulnerable to developing a mental health problem; and stress – stress can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, and the whole transition to becoming a student can cause stress.
For many students, as well as the academic side of university, is also provides the opportunity to have a lot of freedom, meet new people, go out and enjoy themselves, and have fun. However, there is also the potential for such change to be the cause of a range of problems. For those students who live away in university halls or other accommodation, feeling homesick and having to adapt to new surroundings and ways of living can have the potential to cause issues such as loneliness and anxiety. The academic part of university can also be the cause of stress and worry, such as meeting new people, getting work finished on time, managing student loans, and finding enough time to study.
I think it’s important for students to understand that many people struggle with university in one way or another, and there is a wide range of support available for those that want or need it. Being aware of the signs of anxiety and depression can help with knowing if professional help is needed from a GP, for example. People can feel stressed, low, or anxious sometimes, but if those feelings affect a person’s life or don’t go away after a couple of weeks, help may need to be sought. Symptoms of having depression and anxiety include feeling low, more agitated or anxious than normal, and losing motivation and an interest in life. Other signs may include stopping attending university classes/lectures, becoming withdrawn, changes in weight, and having problems sleeping.
For any student experiencing such problems at university, talking to someone about how they are feeling is an important first step. It can help to talk to person they can trust, such as a friend, family member, tutor, or a doctor. A lot of higher education institutions also have their own counselling services that students can use for free. They are confidential and are a place where a student can access professional counsellors and psychotherapists. More information is usually on the website on how to get an appointment, and many have a mental health advisor who can also help with gaining access to the services.
As well as more formal pathways of help, there may also be services led by students who could provide peer support, and there are also online self-help services, with further information available in the references section. There is a lot of support available so no one has to suffer in silence.
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