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7th March 2019 is University Mental Health Day. Universities, students, mental health organisations, and ordinary people will be coming together to discuss and raise awareness of the very real mental health issues facing Britain’s students. This year, the theme of the day is ‘Raise Your Voice’.
Britain has often been described as suffering from a university mental health ‘epidemic’. Students are suffering from unprecedented levels of stress, and struggling more than ever before with mental health issues. At the same time, we’re experiencing turbulent times as a country, which may be reducing sympathy for the plight of students. This is why we really need initiatives like University Mental Health Day, to raise awareness of the very real issues out there, to dispel stigmas, and to let sufferers know that there is help and support available for them.
WHY IS UNIVERSITY MENTAL HEALTH DAY IMPORTANT?
It’s vitally important to change the narrative around student mental health. The UK has over 2.3 million students, around a third of which have been diagnosed with serious psychological distress. It’s likely that there are many more such students who have not disclosed their troubles. Academic, financial, and social pressures bear down hard upon the modern student population – something reflected in the number of students leaving university before their final exams and, tragically, the growing number of student suicides.
However, disappointingly, there’s a growing number of misinformed individuals who disparage mentally ill students as ‘snowflakes’. What these people fail to understand is that students and young people today are facing the toughest economic and social conditions for 100 years. While the older generation could buy their own house using one person’s part-time salary, young people today are struggling to pay hugely inflated rents from the salary of two full-time jobs. And that’s not to mention the difficulty of finding housing, the dubious job market, the costs of tuition, mounting debt, Brexit, climate change, and all the other things that their parents and grandparents rarely if ever had to worry about.
This is why University Mental Health Day this year is exhorting people to Use Their Voices. It is vital that we defeat the growing stigma around student stress and mental health. Stigma is very damaging, as it shames people into silence, preventing them from seeking vital help.
Raising awareness of the state of student mental health also helps us to put pressure on universities, society, and the medical community to work together in helping vulnerable students. The more we talk about this stuff, the more we’ll learn – and the better equipped we’ll be to help those in need.
WHY IS MENTAL HEALTH SUCH A PROBLEM FOR STUDENTS?
Part of the reason why we’re seeing such an uptick in student mental health issues is simply that we’re more aware of mental health problems than we used to be. That means that more people are able to spot when problems arise, and to seek (or recommend) help. This is a good thing, of course.
It’s also worth noting that heading to university is a hugely transitional time for many students, and it comes with a lot of pressures. Leaving home and heading out into the world is very exciting, but it’s also stressful. Particularly when (as is so often the case nowadays) it comes with difficult financial struggles and the prospect of masses of debt in the future. Many modern students are working several jobs in addition to their coursework, which can put a lot of strain on their mental wellbeing.
University work in itself is, of course, inherently stressful – particularly with the graduate job market as competitive as it is. Students are under immense pressure to do well in their exams and distinguish themselves from their peers after graduation, or they risk a difficult future.
Then there’s the social aspect of university. 9 out of 10 students in a recent survey admitted to struggling to balance the social and academic at university, with several finding the pressures of making and keeping new friends very stressful indeed.
All of this stress, pressure and upheaval can combine to create quite a toxic environment for the mind. Mental health issues flourish under such conditions, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that so many of our students are battling with their mental health, as well as trying to afford their tuition, make friends, pass their exams, and find jobs.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH?
Well, raising awareness of the problem through things like University Mental Health Day is a great start! Events like this encourage universities to put more resources into student support services (with specific regard to mental health). However, we can also do our bit to reduce the stigma around young people’s mental health by treating it like the serious and relevant issue that it is, rather than dismissing it.
HOW CAN STUDENTS HELP THEIR OWN MENTAL HEALTH?
If you or a friend of yours are at university and struggling to manage your mental health, the best thing that you can do is to seek help. Let someone know that you’re buckling under the pressure. Your tutors are there to help you if you’re finding things hard, and student support services will do their best to give you the help and resources you need.
It may well be that you could benefit from counselling. Counselling for students is common, and there are plenty of trained, accredited counsellors out there who have experience in the unique issues you as a student will be facing.
An accredited counsellor will give you the space and time to work through your feelings and express your worries. They’ll work with you to find techniques and solutions which will help you to keep an even keel, and they’ll be able to offer the kind of specialised advice which may not otherwise be available to you.
If you’re looking for a counsellor to help with your mental health as a student, check out our website for advice on finding the right counsellor for you.