Turned on my TV this morning and was surprised to hear talk of mental health! The BBC was discussing the rise of stress, anxiety and depression amongst university students (you can read the article here). Firstly, again I am so pleased with how often I hear mental health being discussed in the media nowadays. You barely heard anybody speak of it as frankly and openly as they do now, and that is one major step towards helping the situation – well done BBC News 🙂
Secondly, let’s talk about the actual topic in hand. When I look back at my student life, I actually feel incredibly lucky that my own mental health issues did not emerge at this point. I honestly don’t know how I would have coped. I certainly would not have wanted to tell my newly found friends about it, I am sure my tutors would not have been used to listening to such problems and I do not recall hearing about any support service available at my University, although I was of course not looking for it.
Student life is…mentally tough. I absolutely loved it when I was there, but if I went back when struggling with self-esteem, self-confidence and anxiety issues, I think I would have started to flail. There’s the academic angst of course, knowing that anything less than 2:1 could get in the way of career success and parental pride. Hard to escape when you are in a bubble with often equally as talented friends who are proud to announce they can knock out a 2:1 or 1st assignment in a few hours (or so they say…).
Even worse, there’s the potential social angst of it all. I remember one of my first housemates was very different to the rest of us. Not at all a horrible or unlikeable person, just very different interests and personality. We all got on so well together, and he basically tried to fit in and it didn’t work. He eventually became isolated and didn’t socialise with us anymore. I feel guilty now about this. To be frank, he must have felt like s**t at the time, as we eventually just stopped including him in our social events. Luckily, he went on to make great friends (with similar interests) outside of the house but now I imagine if that were me. That sort of thing would cripple me if I were at my most anxious about how I come across to others.
Then, there’s the real worst. Not making friends at all. If you feel depressed, anxious, moody and stressed, you become very reluctant to put yourself out there. You shut out your loved ones even, so why on earth would you risk getting hurt by strangers who don’t understand your situation? Or in some cases, you can really put yourself out there by drinking alcohol, taking drugs, and socialising with only strangers in a bid to shut out the demons. Then morning comes, and you have nobody to turn to still. You’re away from your family, school friends and what you’re familiar with. Where can you go?
The point of this post is to emphasise even more today how important it really is to support students with mental health issues at university. Whether they have no friends to turn to, or find it too difficult to speak to their fun-loving large circle of friends, having external services available to offer guidance and advice may be just what they need to get through the day, year or hopefully degree. Much better they start to sort their issues before their career begins…trust me…