Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all well. Apologies for not posting last week, I was extremely busy with work and creating the content for this blog slipped my mind and I wanted to put aside some time to make a good blog. For this post, I wanted to post about Mental Health Awareness Week which takes place in the second week of May. Previously this week has focused on how mindfulness, anxiety, sleep deprivation and relationships can impact a person’s mental health. This year the theme is ‘surviving or thriving’ and I wanted to write a bit about mental health and how it can impact students in particular.

Mental health issues are becoming increasingly pervasive and affecting an increasing number of people. University is often described as the best time of one’s life, but according to a recent article (which can be found through the link here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2016/08/11/one-in-four-university-students-suffer-from-mental-health-proble/) the reality for over a quarter of undergraduates could be very different.

Additionally a YouGov survey of 1,061 students found that 1 in 4 undergraduates reported having a mental health problem. This number rose to a 1/3 for female students compared to 19% for male undergraduate students. This percentage was also high among LGBT students where almost ½ (45%) stating that they suffered from mental health issues.

The survey also found that more than half of the student population it surveyed know between 1 and 5 people who suffer from a mental illness in contrast to just 8% who know no-one with mental health issues. According to this report, it is clear that anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems as nearly ¾ of students who were suffering from a mental health problem reporting both as a health issue.

Students are often portrayed as happy-go-lucky young people, who party and enjoy life to the full, in reality 1 in 10 students; actually fail to complete their degree (according to the Complete University Guide). This may not necessarily be due to mental health issues but it can be due to things like being on an inappropriate course, the cost of education, the location in which the university is based or the pressure. In numerical terms according to the YouGov survey mentioned before, of those who were approached almost 50% reported that their mental health issues affected their ability to complete everyday tasks with 4% stating that even the most basic of tasks felt to be beyond their ability to complete.

A number of people feel that things are not right at university and attempt to soldier on (the old English action of having a stiff upper lip and all that). When thinking about this it is not surprising that individuals can struggle to the adjustment. Moving away from home, family and friends, making new friends, becoming independent, the pressure to pass, do well, not fail, forge a career have an impact on us really early on (often this will come from ourselves).

I remember that for myself, the first few months at university were the hardest to adapt to. Not only was I ill and wanting the comfort of home but I was quite shy and felt as though I couldn’t connect to my flatmates who all wanted to go out partying most of the time. I am aware that others feel or have felt similar emotions at university but it is important to know and understand that you are not alone and do not have to deal with things by yourself.

The first step to seeking and getting help is to talk about your issues (this isn’t to say that you will be diagnosed with a medical condition), but please note that if you are struggling in any way that there are people and procedures put in place to help you cope with the change and feel mentally and emotionally well. You can also approach your friends or family and speak to them. I think the old mantra of ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is relevant here. But the first step in helping yourself is to speak up about it. If you feel like speaking to someone outside of the university community for any mental health or well-being issue the Samaritans can be contacted 24 hours a day for 365 days a year on 116 123. The call is free and they can be of immense help. They can also be emailed at jo@samaritans.org or you can write to them at Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, Stirling, FK8 2SA.

I know in the past it has been said that if you were struggling and were feeling low, you would be thought of as weak but this simply isn’t the case. I recall a BBC article last week or so which stated that young men are the most likely to take their own life and many suggested that this was in part due to the reluctance of men to speak about their problems because they would be considered weak or ridiculed for not being ‘strong enough’. But as a community and a society it is extremely important to speak about the things that are affecting us to not only help ourselves but to reduce the stigma around mental health. Even Princes Harry and William (alongside Lady GaGa) have noted how detrimental the stiff upper lip ethos is. So please don’t be afraid to speak out.

The university offers many services to help students, who may be struggling, from in-house counselling, well-being services, and pastoral support from staff. There is no shame in using these services of acknowledging and admitting that you aren’t enjoying yourself at university (as hard as this may be).

Another thing to remember is that University is not solely about study, there are other aspects that are there to help you develop your interests. So, past advice from a student who suffered from mental health issues (her article can be found through this link: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/dec/02/dropping-out-of-uni-university), is to focus on the aspects of university life that you do enjoy. This should not be to the detriment of your studies but having an outlet like a sport can help you socialise and feel less isolated and make you feel happier (through an endorphin rush). This can also help you to develop a support network if you are struggling. Sometimes, university can feel like a lonely place but having people accept and care about your well-being can help to off-set these feelings of isolation

It is also important to note that if you are too ill, you do not have to solider on and make yourself worse (and feel as though you are in a rut) there are options for medical leave or extenuating circumstances. This can enable you to get extra support on work if you need it, or in the instance of medical leave, this can give you the space you need to work on feeling better and getting well.

Students are not immune from mental health issues and it is important to recognise this and address it. I would urge people to speak out and seek help for themselves or others or simply to just be supportive of others. University is a fun time of our lives but this does not mean we can feel down or struggle along the way. You do not have to be diagnosed to have an issue, you may have a short term issue but there is no point in attempting to forge ahead alone when there are people and places to help you. You are not weak simply because you may have a mental illness or mental health issue. Let us help and support each other to not only survive but to thrive as well!

I hope this post is helpful. If you want some more information on mental health issues I have included the links and information for…

Or speak to your friends, family or supervisor.

Thanks for reading!

Joanna Wolton

Joanna Wolton

I am a PhD student in the Centre for Innovative Ageing within the College of Human and Health Sciences. I hope this blog is insightful and gives you some tips and information about what it is like to be a student living in Swansea.

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