May is International Mental Health Awareness month. As the rate of people suffering from mental health disorders increases, so does the importance of awareness. University students are one of the most at-risk and vulnerable demographics to fall victim to poor mental health.
Why is the rate of Mental Health increasing?
This is a loaded question with three main answers. The first being that there have been leaps and bounds in Psychological studies, with more mental health disorders being identified (for example, the most recently Binge-Eating Disorder and Hoarding Disorder have been recognised, which are not exactly unusual amongst University students). With more recognised mental disorders, naturally more and more people are being diagnosed. Back in the day, someone might have been labelled as ‘a bit weird’, but now we have real scientific backing to explain their behaviours.
Secondly, stigmas surrounding mental health are slowly being broken down. Movements such as Mental Health Awareness month, as well as more exposure in the media (films, TV shows, social media) have debunked many misconceptions of certain mental health disorders. With more public awareness and less stigma, people are more likely to come forward and reveal that they have been suffering from a disorder.
For example, Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, Dr Steven Scholzman, said on the 2012 blockbuster film ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, “It’s Hollywood, so there are going to be things that are there more for the story than for accuracy. But they did a very nice job of depicting manic depressive illness or bipolar disorder“.
However, Hollywood still has a long way to go in terms of accurately portraying mental health disorders. 2016 blockbuster ‘Split’, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, was highly criticised for its portrayal of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). James McAvoy’s character has DID, and *spoilers* turns out to be a serial murderer. Psychotherapist Elizabeth Howell warns that the film, “raises dangerous attitudes to emerge and for people with the illness to be damaged“.
The third school of thought is that mental health diagnoses are increasing simply because the pressures of modern society are causing more people to actually become mentally ill. We are in the age of 24/7 connectivity, where our whole lives are being shared online. There is not time to just ‘switch off’. You can read your work emails from home, see your grades while still in bed, and have your location shared for everyone to see.
It is not just celebrities in magazines who are being photoshopped to look prettier and thinner- your friends and family have their own apps for that on their phones! People are sharing their successes online, and hiding their failures. It is no wonder that societal pressures in this new age of technology are making a massive impact on our mental health.
Why are University students more vulnerable to Mental Health Disorders?
Students are more likely to develop poor mental health for a variety of reasons; they are typically online more. So, the pressures of social media influence them a great deal more than it would their parents or their grandparents. Click here to read more about coping with the pressures of being a student.
Additionally, due to the growing holes in the economy and the rarity value even basic jobs hold now (1/3 of graduates have jobs that they are overqualified for, according to The Telegraph), there is more emphasis on making your CV as strong as possible. Many students see it as ‘not good enough’ to just have a degree: to stand out you need to be captain of a sports team, have a long list of work experience, be fluent in another language, volunteer for two hours each day, solve world hunger, be the first man to land on Jupiter, etc. All whilst getting yourself into ridiculous amounts of tuition debt. A work-life balance seems harder and harder to achieve. Click here to read our tips on balancing studies and life commitments.
“75% OF STUDENTS REPORTED HAVING EXPERIENCED PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS WHILE AT UNIVERSITY” (YouthSight, 2013)
How do I know if I have a Mental Illness?
This is a difficult question as there are so many kinds of mental disorders, and each disorder has its own spectrum and scale of severity. The most common Mental Disorders for students to have are GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) and Depression. Click here to read more about Depression amongst International Students.
Anxiety tends to manifest as panic attacks, lack of concentration/focus, little sleep, and over/under eating. Depression tends to manifest as feeling lethargic, oversleeping, and little motivation. If you experience any of these for more than a few weeks, it might be worth visiting your University doctor, or local GP.
Everyone feels anxious or down from time to time, and these spells can even last a week or so. But, if you have been feeling ‘not yourself’ for an extended period of time and it is having a real impact on the quality of your life and wellbeing, then I implore you to go and seek help.
I think I have a disorder, how do I seek help?
Seeking help is the first step to getting your mental health back in shape. There are so many ways to get help, the best of which depends on your circumstances, and what help looks like to you.
Go to your University doctor/GP
This depends on whether you are an international student or not, and if you have easy access to your at-home doctor. I know it can be scary, but going to your doctor and telling them your symptoms may result in them diagnosing you, and offering professional help (be it counselling, CBT, or even medication)
Go to your University Support Centre
Every University is will have some sort of place to go to if you are in need of help. Each University has a different name for it (e.g. at the University of Sussex, it’s the Student Support Unit). This should be easy to find on your University website.
Talk to someone you trust
Again, I understand this can be frightening as some people struggle to open up to others. But, talking to a friend or family member may be the secret to starting your journey to better wellbeing. They may have noticed a change in you, and it might be comforting to have someone to keep an eye on you.
Talk to someone online/over the phone
If you feel like you have no one in your life that you can talk to, or you feel too nervous/embarrassed to talk to someone that you know, then there are many services you can use to get you some help. Here are just a few places you can contact:
- The Samaritans: call 116 123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Elefriends: online community, click here
- Sane: online support forum, click here
- The Mix (for Under-25s): online community, click here
- Nightline (specifically for students): online community, click here
How can my University accommodate my Mental Health disorder?
Under the 2010 Equality Act, Every University is obliged to help you with your mental health disorder. However, every University’s approach to helping you will differ. They could offer counselling services, give extended deadlines for your assignments, give you extra time in exams, not penalise you for low attendance, etc. All Universities are obligated to help UK disabled students to apply for a Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) which is a grant given by the government to help cope with the growing costs of being a student.