The university experience is unique and for those who attend, very memorable. It’s not all parties and hangovers like the movies often portray though – the main aim of attending university is to study and achieve your chosen qualification that leads onto a decent job. This can be mentally challenging.
These factors contribute to a student’s mental wellbeing. So, it’s important that university mental health is a priority and students know what role they play in fostering a positive mindset.
A recent Healthy Minds survey found that students struggling with their mental health are twice as likely to drop out of university. It’s sad to think that a young person who works so hard to secure a place at university, could drop out due to mental health issues that could probably have been resolved or managed.
Let’s take a look at what students can do to protect their mental health at university and what universities can do to help them.
What Are the Most Common Mental Health Difficulties for Students?
Going to university is a challenge. To get the most out of the experience, there must be a good balance of study, relationship building, learning and achievement. And, of course, good times.
Stressors that university students have to overcome, include:
- Being away from home – university students have to move away from home – for some it’s for the first time in their lives
- Independence – students suddenly have more independence, but are they ready for it?
- Time management
- New relationships
- Work/Study balance
- Increased responsibility
All of this is added to the pressures that come with managing their studies and graduating. It makes them vulnerable to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. It can lead to eating disorders and the development of mental conditions such as OCD, and symptoms that including self-harm, substance and alcohol abuse and suicide.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Not all students show outward signs of mental health conditions, so they can be hard to spot. Some signs to look out for are:
- Isolation – becoming withdrawn, not attending social events
- Decline in grades and submitting work late
- Reduced attendance – not attending classes, or one-to-one sessions with tutors
- Reduced motivation
- Lack of energy
- Self-harm – signs of physical self-harm, increased alcohol intake and drug taking
- Behavioural changes – becoming aggressive or violent, being less vibrant than usual
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Physical symptoms – suffering from frequent headaches/migraines, digestive issues
Many students suffer in silence and may not feel comfortable disclosing their inner thoughts and feelings to university staff, but they may find speaking to fellow students and friends helpful.
This highlights another role of the student – actively listening to friends and classmates when they talk about any mental challenges, spotting changes in their behaviour and encouraging them to seek help and take advantage of university resources.
Why Is It Important for Students to Manage Mental Health at University?
Sound mental health enables students to thrive and achieve their academic goals. Mastering the management of mental health at university could set a young person up with the skills to cope with the stresses of life, by providing them with mechanisms on how to deal with mental challenges.
Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises to relieve stress and anxiety, and journalling, coupled with therapy and counselling, can be introduced during this period of life.
University is a pivotal time for a young person but it’s also just another chapter that has to be completed. After university, there is much more to the story of life, so being able to get through this stage, safely, is really important.
How Can Universities Boost Mental Wellbeing Among Students?
Around one fifth of students are diagnosed with a mental health problem. Given the life changes that going to university brings to a young adult, this may not be surprising. Universities are in a key position to help students.
Addressing the Stigma by Improving Awareness
There is absolutely nothing wrong with experiencing mental challenges. More than a quarter of the UK population will experience some form of mental health issue in any given year. The majority of which can be successfully treated. It’s important that university leaders promote mental wellness to improve awareness which goes a long way in continuing to break the stigma.
Participating in national and university mental health awareness campaigns such as World Mental Health Day, setting up student-led mental health programs and creating safe environments for disclosure, can boost student confidence in knowing that their mental health is a priority.
Harnessing Positive Campus Culture
Culture is essentially how things are done by a collective. The beliefs, customs, ideas and social behaviours of the university community create its culture. Toxic, stereotypical and outdated views of mental health have no place in society, let alone university campuses.
Leaders who lead by example can create a positive mental health culture by weaving wellbeing awareness into the curriculum, providing support such as drop-in counselling sessions and giving students greater involvement on the matters that affect them.
Studies show that students with a greater sense of wellbeing, both physical and mental, show higher levels of motivation, engagement and self-confidence. This in turn heightens their critical thinking, cultural awareness and they are more likely to show kindness and sympathy to others.
Harnessing that culture takes time and needs to be maintained. The outcome of the work it takes to create this culture is worthwhile – increased academic performance, better graduation grades and student retention are just some of the benefits.
There are a wealth of resources and services available to students through their university.
Taking advantage of digital resources is a no-brainer. With so much of our lives being attached to our smart devices it’s one of the best ways to deliver services. Apps, podcasts and websites such as Silvercloud, Headspace and Youngminds can be accessed 24/7, so they’re perfect, even for those students who attend online courses or are a long distance away from campus.
Remember, any initiative that is implemented to ensure university mental health for students should be tracked to make sure it continues to be impactful.
What Can Students Do to Help Themselves?
Student mental health is a high priority for universities and most have very good resources in place: on-site counsellors, therapists and educators who are trained to offer students emotional support throughout their learning journey. They are in the best position to know when they are needed, so these resources should be utilised by students.
Prior to going to university, students may have depended on others to speak up for them when it came to their physical and mental wellbeing. As they sit on the cusp of adulthood and start to move through life on their own, it’s vital that they speak up for themselves. Their role is to voice any mental health concerns that they experience, so they can get the right support before things escalate.
Mind Health Is Wealth
Positive mental health is what we all strive for. Having a good understanding of how the mind works is a good way of knowing how to take care of it. The Human Focus website offers a range of mental health courses that you can view and share with others.