Student mental health is not often talked about. But it affects more people than you might think.
Living with a mental health issue can be tough for anyone. But if you’re a student, facing unique challenges and expectations, it can be especially tough.
As part of World Mental Health Day, we wanted to focus on student mental health, what it’s like to live with a mental health issue, and what you can do to prevent and manage an illness.
Did you know that…
1 in 10 adults in the UK will experience a mental health issue. For 50% of them, it begins before they’re 15 years old.
That’s a lot of students going through tough times. In fact, in a room of 40 people, four will have a diagnosable mental health issue; and out of those four, one would be receiving treatment.
But why do you think so many young people are affected?
Student life isn’t easy: deadlines; workloads; presentations; homesickness; social pressures; finances…the list goes on. As a student, it seems like there’s always something to stress about.
GOING IT ALONE
As a student – especially in further or higher education – getting the right support around you can become more difficult. Without good support, your student mental health can suffer.
As your brain develops, it’s simply a common time for mental health problems to occur.
Stress is the enemy of mental wellness. So despite those crazy deadlines and party invites, it’s important to stop stress from taking over.
1. DON’T BE AFRAID TO GET HELP
Whether you’re studying or at work, nobody’s superman. Remember that it’s always ok to ask for help if things are getting too much.
Like many things in life, brains need time to recharge. Take regular (short) breaks when you’re working; take time to relax when you’re not; and always get enough sleep.
3. RECOGNISE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS
Remember when you smashed that last assignment? Take time to pause and think about your achievements between projects. Maybe even think about rewarding yourself.
4. STAY REALISTIC
There’s always pressure to do well. But whatever happens, remember you’ve always got options. Ultimately, life rarely hangs on a single grade.
5. REMEMBER WHAT’S IMPORTANT
There’s more to life than school, college, uni or work. Take time to do the things you enjoy, whether that’s playing sport, meeting with mates, or just phoning home. Even when you’re busy, make time to fit these moments in.
6. STAY IN SHAPE
While you don’t need abs like Jess Ennis-Hill, getting at least light exercise – like going for a walk – will make you feel good. Endorphins are the ultimate stress busters!
Tiredness can affect every part of your life. From brain function to emotional response, the world just seems a tougher place when you’re not getting enough sleep.
8. EAT WELL
Less crisps and Pot Noodles, and more balanced meals will give your brain and mood a boost. If you’re short on time (or talent), a student cookbook is a good substitute for a willing mother.
9. AVOID ILLEGAL DRUGS
Drug abuse is not only illegal – and could land you in serious trouble with your employers or education provider – but it can also lead to a variety of mental illness and make existing mental health conditions worse.
10. BE SENSIBLE WITH ALCOHOL
Excessive amounts of alcohol is known to make conditions like depression worse. It can also react badly to some medications. While drinking is often considered a part of the student life, remember to make smart choices.
Preventing or managing mental illnesses not only means avoiding stress, but also finding the right kind of support.
Whether you’re studying in school, university or at work, support will be there if you know where to look.
FRIENDS, FAMILY & COLLEAGUES
Keeping a close network of friends and family around you can make a huge difference to how you feel. Even if that just means one trusted friend, or a person you can be open with who will support you, and listen to what you’re going through.
The NHS provides student mental health services, like counselling and other therapies. The first place to go is to your GP, who might be able to prescribe you medication, refer you to local services, or help you access treatment that best suits your needs.
Many universities provide free counselling services to their students – although they might be limited in what they can offer. Your tutors might also be able to make adjustments to help you study, like moving deadlines etc.
If you need support at work and feel comfortable talking with your employer about your health, your manager or someone from Human Resources should be able to put support measures in place.
Paying for therapies, such as counselling, is an option if you can afford it. While some good treatment options are available, it can be quite expensive.
If you’re living with a mental health issue, this might be a factor when choosing how and where you’d like to study.
Support should be available to you, whatever your choice – so you shouldn’t need to feel limited.
But while the experience of university or an apprenticeship will be different for everyone, there are some common factors to think about, in relation to your student mental health:
If you’re studying as part of an apprenticeship, work will obviously be a big part of your life. But even part time jobs can lead to stress, with or without a mental health issue.
If the daily grind is giving you problems:
First…recognise the things that are causing stress. Try and be as specific as possible.
Next…think about what helps. When do you feel happy at work? Try to prioritise or focus on these things.
Then…if you need to, talk to your manager about it. They might be able to make some adjustments that can help. Of course, this might not always be possible – depending on your role. But small changes can often go a long way. For example:
Remember…think about your job description. Are the expectations on you still within the boundaries of your role?
And always…keep remembering what’s important in life. Keep supportive people around you, and try to look after your physical health.
If you’d like to help someone you know who is experiencing a mental health issue, the best thing you can do is simply be there for them.
While stigma surrounding mental health is improving, it’s still very real for lots of people – often resulting in isolation and bullying. But the good news is that simply listening and spending time with someone can go a long way. Whoever we are, we all need a safe environment with people that we trust.