While the acknowledgement and acceptance of mental health is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s society, there are still underlaying issues which need to be addressed – in particular, the mental health of students.
The recognition of mental health and the struggles people face has been a significant positive movement for our society and has helped many people feel they have a chance to speak out and get help.
However, while this improvement has allowed mental health to have a platform in which to bring people’s attention to the issues surrounding it, there is still a lack of action. As reported by many students, it is increasingly familiar and easy to relate to what others endure when in education, and while colleges and universities are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of mental health and are actively making changes, many have seen that things are not progressing in the right direction fast enough.
What is affecting the mental health of students?
– Hard to meet deadlines
– Lack of support at home and at college/university
– Maintaining a social life while balancing lots of course work and a job
– Lack of resources
– Social Media
– Lack of personal connection
– Financial struggles
– Meeting new people
– Maintaining past lifestyles, relationships, hobbies
There are many factors which influence everyone’s mental health, but these factors are particularly evident in students’ health. Not only is the change from college life to university life a big leap which can cause one to feel alone and homesick, but when partnered with the stress of deadlines, creating a new life, and maintaining your own finances, the exciting change can become a daunting one.
Even the jump from secondary school to college is one filled with anxiety over the next big step in your life. Even though this anxiety and nervousness is experienced by practically every student on some level, it cannot be disregarded as a factor which could lead to a struggling mind.
What can I do to manage my mental health?
Dealing with new situations is a part of life that everyone will have to experience at some point, but this does not mean that students have to struggle in silence – this is one of the many factors that colleges/universities need to acknowledge and help.
While many places of education and work places moving in the right direction by educating their students on the importance of mental health with assemblies and mental health weeks, there is still a lack of intimacy and personal care in these assemblies.
It has been reported from students that many presentations through their years in education about the dangers of poor mental health and ways to combat it, that nearly every one has been the same words repeated again and again on differing PowerPoint slides.
While these presentations are important, especially in the earlier years of education, to teach young children about the importance of mental health and to help them understand what they are feeling, the repetition of statistics and figures year after year does not qualify as significant action in the support of student mental health.
What is being done?
While the presentations and lectures are an important part of the battle against poor mental health, they cannot be the only factor used by places of education. A more personal approach needs to be taken for students not to feel isolated and alone during their times of struggle.
Sometimes the promise of seeing a counsellor can be scary and the idea of actually talking to a professional can make one feel embarrassed and dismiss their worries as not being serious enough to need professional help, but there are charities who are offering free mental health services for young people that include one-to-one counselling, which is seen as a more personable approach.
One way some educational institutions combat this feeling of insecurity surrounding talking to a professional, is by using other methods such as having sessions with emotional support dogs during exam season.
Exam periods are times of extreme stress for the majority of students and so the opportunity for them to spend a period of time out of their busy day with dogs is a great way to alleviate stress. This is also a less daunting way for students to speak their mind as they feel they have a companion who will listen and not judge.
However, some places may not be able to have sessions with support animals, so what are some other ways places of education or even students themselves can do to better mental health?
– Have mindfulness sessions or weeks in which students can take a break from their overbearing schedule and do something creative.
– Encourage social time, especially during exam season, so students don’t feel the pressure to study in an unhealthy way.
– Encourage physical activity to get students away from their computers and books to not only better their mental health, but their physical health too.
– Educate parents and teachers about mental health and the signs of someone struggling.
– Have a place where students can go to and trust without the fear of judgement.
A lot of students take up part time jobs whilst studying to supplement their student loans, this comes with more responsibility but for some students more stress and potentially more mentally harmful distractions. Wherever someone finds a job, student or not, they should talk to their employer about provisions in place to help support employees with their mental health.
Why change needs to happen
Sky News recently obtained data through Freedom of Information requests from 109 universities. The data shows the change that needs to happen in places of education.
While the data showed that 98% of the universities offer mental health training to student-facing staff, it is only mandatory in 40 out of 107 institutions and therefore not mandatory in 63% of them. And while 37% does have some sort of mandatory training, the majority of the time it doesn’t actually cover all university staff.
This data shows how crucial it is that places of education make changes so that their students have access to people who can help. Further research that I think shows the need for change, is data from the charity YoungMinds. The charity has said that ‘Just over one in three children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition get access to NHS care and treatment’.
They also revealed that a YoungMinds survey found that ‘three-quarters (76%) of parents said that their child’s mental health had deteriorated while waiting for support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)’ and that in a Censuswide survey commissioned by YoungMinds ‘two-thirds (67%) of young people said they would prefer to be able to access mental health support without going to see their GP but half (53%) said they didn’t know how else to access this help’.
These figures show how important it is that schools, colleges and universities are able to be the first base of support for students in need.
The data shows that most students don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a GP or even know how, and that those who do are not receiving the help they desperately need.
This is one of the most important reasons why mental health training and support needs to be improved in places of education, so that students are able to learn where they can get help and if needed can receive that help in a supportive environment that they frequent, so they don’t feel isolated or worried about seeking help outside of where they are comfortable.
Charities committed to helping students in need
There are many charities that commit themselves to helping young people who are struggling with their mental health.
Mind is a charity that not only provides information on mental health so that you can personally learn and educate yourself, but it also provides people with places they can get different kinds of support and help, whether that be through an anonymous help line, or through on of their 125 Local Minds across England and Wales who offer specialised support to those in need. The charity also campaigns for change to be made surrounding mental health, for example; pushing for real reforms to the outdated Mental Health Act, campaigning for better care for everyone and focusing on getting better care for those in poverty and racialised communities.
YoungMinds is another mental health charity who pursue change. YoungMinds provides people with the information and tools needed to better their mental health and understand what they are going through. Like Mind, they also provide young people with support they can receive from different charities, but also through their own Text-line which offers free, 24/7 text messaging support for those in the UK. They recently launched their three-year strategy developed alongside their Youth Panel called ‘You Matter’ with the purpose to stop young peoples’ mental health reaching a crisis point.
The strategy is devised of three programmes (‘Never alone’, ‘Someone to turn to’ and ‘Powerful young voices’) in which they show how they plan to get young people the help they need.