Between managing deadlines, budgeting and leaving home and living with strangers for the first time, being a student can be really tough.
But with a global pandemic in the mix too, talking about students’ mental health has never been more important, with many struggling with the isolation of studying remotely and the lack of hands-on teaching.
Though face-to-face teaching will be back this September, a survey by Student Beans shows that a staggering 98% of new students starting university this year are worried about the impact Covid-19 will have on their university or college experience, with 83% believing it will impede their ability to socialise.
But while it’s easy enough to see how mental health problems can develop on campuses, how can universities go about promoting better mental wellbeing and why is mental health awareness such an important tool for success at university?
Here’s the lowdown.
According to a survey of 3,000 students carried out by student discount app Student Beans, some of the biggest worries for university students are exam stress, loneliness, money and finances and general mental health and wellbeing issues.
When it comes to the impact of Covid-19 on college students’ mental health, almost two-thirds (60%) of students surveyed reported feeling more anxious and depressed, while 42% admitted feeling more stressed and 22% more isolated.
Lewis Potton, Editor at Student Beans, says: “For many students starting or returning to university this year, they may be feeling more anxious than before.
The ongoing impact on mental health caused by the pandemic has increased student levels of worry, anxiety and stress.”
Other issues that come into play, especially for first year students or students moving further afield to study abroad, include: financial worry and nerves about being away from home as well as their friends and family.
On top of this, Floss Knight, Psychotherapist and CEO of UK Therapy Guide is also keen to emphasise the damage that false or exaggerated expectations of what university can be like can cause, especially for those students who are naturally more introverted or suffer from social anxiety.
She says: “There are considerable expectations about university: it is often lauded as ‘the best three years’ by alumni and this is a trope that’s regularly repeated in fiction, be it in books, TV or film.
“Social media has furthered this image and expectation that the time will be pure fun, full of friendship and excitement.
“This is not the true, lived experience of so many students.”
It’s no secret that mental health and academic success in college go hand in hand.
Many studies show how poor mental health not only reduces quality of life and physical health, but also negatively impacts academic achievement.
Considering mental health issues can not only affect your health, grades and ability to form relationships, it’s important to recognise the importance of mental health awareness in finding personal and academic success at university.
Though the pandemic worsened students’ anxieties about university in many ways, it also brought conversations about university mental health issues to the fore, so whether you’re a student yourself, or a parent or friend of one, now is the best time to learn about the importance of mental health awareness on campus.
Many universities already offer mental health programmes on college campuses, but though “the last decade has seen significant progress in destigmatising mental health,” Knight sees now as a “time for action”.
She says: “I want to see universities actually putting support systems and networks in place to ensure every student can access essential therapy, counselling and guidance.”
Psychologist and Wellbeing Consultant, Lee Chambers agrees that continuing to break down the stigma surrounding mental health is fundamental, adding that “universities should also ensure they keep connected to their students, as disconnection can often be a sign of mental health struggles.”
But students also have a responsibility to look out for their peers, so what can you do to help others on campus?
Long story short, communication is key. “Checking in with people if we have any concerns is vital, and creating a safe space for them to discuss without judgement is essential,” Chambers advises.
Some other things to do if you know a student struggling with their mental health include:
As for what the future of mental health awareness on campus looks like, Chambers thinks the continued normalisation of speaking up and asking for help is key, and says: “Students should be learning about the signs and symptoms while they learn the technical skills in education, so they are equipped to recognise it in themselves and others.
“Mental health support in education has come a long way in the past 10 years, but with increasing awareness, action and support, what is often a difficult conversation will hopefully become that bit easier to start.”
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