Student mental health: where to find help
A student’s mental health and wellbeing can be volatile. According to a July 2016 survey of more than 1,000 students carried out by research organisation YouGov, more than a quarter of students in the UK consider themselves to have mental health problems, of which the most prominent problems are depression and anxiety.
And while the high pressure, high expectations and highly intense environment of university might seem like enough to put students under stress, they can also be affected by issues that predate university, such as relationship or family issues.
Whatever the causes, the number of students dropping out of university for mental health reasons is growing at an alarming rate; according to Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data, the percentage has risen by 210% from 2010 to 2015.
So what’s to be done?
Know the signs
Symptoms of depression include:
- Feeling low or sad for a continuous amount of time
- Low self esteem
- Feeling helpless, tearful and irritable
- A loss of interest in life: neglecting hobbies, lack of motivation in studies or avoiding contact with friends
- Moving more slowly than usual
- Change in weight
- Disturbed sleep
A full list of symptoms of depression can be found on the NHS website.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Restlessness and difficulty concentrating
- Feeling irritable and intolerant
- An ongoing sense of dread
- Dizziness, headaches and feeling sick
- Strong or irregular heartbeat
- Trembling or pins and needles
A full list of symptoms of anxiety can be found on the NHS website.
University involves intense and close living conditions and, although this might sometimes add to the stress students are under, it does mean you can keep a close eye on the people around you. If you’re concerned about a friend, the key thing to look out for is changes in behaviour.
You can and must talk about it
Students are expected to be having the time of their lives, which often means they feel they can’t talk about their struggles.
If you can’t talk about your problems then you feel alone. And yet the YouGov data shows that one in four students say they have mental health problems, so they are not alone.
Talking to friends, family, lecturers or whoever you trust is not only a great way to begin the process of tackling your problems, but is also a way to break the stigma around student mental health. It’s not something you can only talk to a counsellor or doctor about.
There is discussion about making it obligatory for university lecturers and tutors to have mental health support training but it is important to know that this is not yet the case. However, tutors are there to support your wellbeing and, while they may not be qualified to help you directly, they can help you see what your options are. They also understand the stresses of university workloads and the pressures of achieving more than you might imagine they do.
Nearly every university in the UK has a student Nightline, where students can ring and simply chat about whatever is on their mind to other students. These Nightlines do not offer advice or opinions but simply offer a listening ear from someone who understands student life.
Taking it further
If you are advised to talk to a professional, or you feel you should, there are a few options at university.
GPs can be a good port of call to help you pinpoint what you’re feeling but also to put you in contact with the relevant services you need.
Nearly every university in the UK has a free counselling service. The process of booking a session does vary: some simply require you to fill out an online form and others will take you through a few stages to ensure you get the right support. However, counselling slots do fill up quickly, which can catch people out later in the term (ie when exam stress sets in).
GP practices often have drop-in clinics. These can be a good way to get a professional opinion without seeking out counselling. They can also be useful if you’d like to talk about someone you’re worried about.
Individual university websites usually have their own mental health and wellbeing sections with area-specific information on what is available.
If you want to be proactive about protecting your mental wellbeing, there is a lot of self-help literature available online and in your university library. There are also a number of apps, such as Headspace, that help with mental wellbeing and are often free if you have a student ID.
Your university may run wellbeing groups. These are particularly helpful if you are aware of what is causing your problems, for example, stress, insomnia or relationships.
Below is a list of websites and charities that offer mental health support specifically for students:
If you'd like to support other students, you could consider volunteering for your university’s Nightline service.