To support University Mental Health Day, Joanna Baker, Therapist and Psychoeducation Coordinator at the University of Derby, explores the rising number of students experiencing mental health problems, and a way to spot the signs that someone may be suffering.
Mental health problems are as common among students as they are in the general population.
There are over 2.3 million students studying in UK universities, many of whom are experiencing academic, social and financial pressures. Being at university can raise a number of unique challenges to student mental health and wellbeing, with around a third of students reporting clinical levels of psychological distress. With an increasing number of students accessing support services, an increase in the severity of distress and mental illness in young people, students leaving university due to mental health difficulties and, tragically, the number of student deaths by suicide, we believe it doesn’t need to be this way.
We’ve all heard of mental health diagnoses like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, but having a diagnosis does not necessarily mean that someone’s mental health is poor right now. You could have a diagnosis of a mental health condition but, right now, be able to manage it and function well at university, at work and at home. Equally, someone might not have a diagnosis, but be finding things very difficult. A lot of difficulties are not caused by medical problems, but by normal life problems, such as family or relationship issues, or anxiety about their work. It’s normal to feel down, anxious or stressed from time to time, but if these feelings affect your daily activities, including your studies, or don’t go away after a couple of weeks, get help.
All forms of mental distress arise because, in one way or another, people’s physical or emotional needs are not being met. If all our needs are met in balance, making us confident about our place in the world and the people we connect with, we don’t suffer from disabling conditions such as anxiety and stress, depression, addictions, phobias or panic attacks.
We all know that we have physical needs – for food, water, warmth and shelter – which must be sufficiently met to enable us to survive and thrive, but people often don’t realise that certain emotional needs are just as crucial for both our mental and physical health. Decades of health and social research have revealed, for instance, that a sense of security, intimacy, social connection, status, autonomy and control, competence and achievement, and meaning and purpose are also vital, if we are to stay in good health and feel fulfilled in our lives.
Our innate resources for helping us meet these needs include the ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others; to learn, problem solve, remember and plan; to use our imaginations productively; and to step back and take an objective look at our circumstances. When any of our important needs are seriously unmet over a significant period or any of our resources are not made best use of, mental and physical ill health may develop.
The first step to solving the problem begins with raising awareness and acting on the signs. Whether observing the symptoms in your own behaviour or in a friend, family member or colleague, using your voice to speak out and seeking help is crucial to tackling the issue.
The symptoms can be physical, emotional and behavioural; they can be difficult to recognise unless you take the time to read around the tell-tale signs.
5 signs that someone is suffering and may need help:
- A change in personality. If someone is acting like a very different person, or not acting or feeling like themselves, this is a warning sign.
- Uncharacteristic anxiety, anger, or moodiness. Severe changes in emotion are a cause for alarm, especially if they are persistent.
- Social withdrawal and isolation. If an individual is “closing off” socially, cancelling social engagements, or spending too much time alone, this is a warning sign of emotional or mental distress.
- Lack of self-care or risky behaviours. When people are suffering mental distress they sometimes lose concern over their own health and wellbeing, engaging in risky behaviours like drinking and drug use. In addition, a lack of hygiene, or lack of concern with appearance, may be indicative of a mental health issue.
- A sense of hopelessness or feeling overwhelmed. Mental distress often causes people to feel like giving up – feeling like life is just too hard, or that they will never feel “normal” again.
There is a clear link between wellbeing and academic success. To help students make the most of their time at university, we provide a wide range of face to face, telephone and online support.
Student Wellbeing Centre (Derby) 01332 593000 (x3000)
Student Wellbeing (Buxton/Leek/Chesterfield) 01298 330414 (x0414)
During January 2019, 145 therapy appointments were missed – this amounts to £4,462 of wasted money. We understand that sometimes you may be unable to attend your appointment for one reason or another. Wherever possible, please give at least 24hrs notice so we can make the appointments available to other students.
There are also lots of great self-help resources out there including:
The NHS Choices Moodzone offers practical advice, interactive tools, videos and audio guides to help you feel mentally and emotionally better.
The NHS Eatwell Guide shows how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
The NHS How To Get To Sleep Guide has some great tips on how to improve your sleep.
Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it’s best to call on the phone. This number is FREE to call. ☎ 116 123 (UK) 116 123 (ROI)
MIND, the mental health charity: Website ☎ 0300 123 3393
Rethink Mental Illness: Website ☎ 0300 5000 927