University: it is depicted in the media as one long, unending party and the chance complete the ‘essential life experience’ of activities before graduation. Everyone expects young people to be euphoric on the university experience and for many, this is not far wrong.
And why should they not? University is marketed as the best and most excited time of your life, the chance to escape from the mundanity of the ‘real world’. However, what many are not aware of, or more concerningly, brush under the carpet, is that university can provide an environment which might trigger harmful mental health issues.
With overwhelming academic pressures, the stresses of forming new friendships and relationships, adjusting to being in a strange place, financial problems and worries about whether a university degree is even going to guarantee a job at the end of it all, it is not surprising that many feel significant emotional strain.
Studies published by The Times have estimated that up to one in four students will encounter some form of mental health issue, including depression, at some point during their university career. Another survey by the Mental Health Foundation has shown that 50 per cent of university students exhibited signs of clinical anxiety, with over one in 10 suffering from clinical depression.
These studies suggest that university does appear to exacerbate mental health issues and elongate existing problems. One fourth-year student describes her time at university as ‘isolating’ and felt that the ‘detachment of tutors, staff and the relative anonymity of university life intensified her feelings of isolation’.
And this may not be the only reason. Perhaps social networking such as Twitter and Facebook should share some blame? With boastfulness encouraging people to portray their lives as one never-ending party, it seems logical that Facebook has been linked to depression, with many people left feeling low after a social networking ‘fix’. David Smallwood, addiction manager at London’s Priory Clinic, states ‘if you’re anxious or depressed, seeing all these people supposedly having such a good time can make you feel worse.' People who are already experiencing low self-esteem and worthlessness, depression will almost certainly be exacerbated by social networking.
Universities all over the country do have support for students concerning these issues. Students who suffer from mental health problems are advised to contact counselling services, mental health and wellbeing services as well as their university’s Medical Centre. Mentoring is also advisable as students can gain support. But it’s a question of how to get students to discuss their overwhelming feelings of anxiety and depression. The main concern is that students do not admit to having these problems or if they are aware, find it embarrassing or humiliating to admit them or even do something about them.
Particularly for men, there is stigma usually attached to counselling and mentoring services. With current rising suicide rates, it is time to remove the barriers of mental health and ensure that students are supported if they are facing difficulties with day-to-day activities.
My own university, the University of Kent, has introduced a day called Health University Mental Health and Well-being day on Wednesday 20 February to promote wellbeing and raise awareness about mental health. So far, 15 universities across the country have pledged to raise awareness on this day. This day pledges to raising awareness about mental health issues and encouraging students to make a pledge to end mental health discrimination.
The Mental Health Foundation’s Head of Policy Simon Lawton Smith has said that ‘university can be a fantastic time for students – but it can also be incredibly stressful'.
"Students can help themselves by getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking in moderation and taking part in group activities. All these things boost emotional as well as physical health. And many worries can be sorted just by talking to friends or fellow students.
"But if things seem overwhelming, every university and college should have a confidential counselling service with trained counsellors, or at least pastoral care support. And GPs have a huge amount of experience in this area. The important thing is that students know they can get support for a mental health issue. They certainly won’t be the only student having difficulty, and it’s neither a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. And the sooner you get help, the better your chances of a quick and effective recovery."
It’s time to break down the barriers of society. Students: don’t sit there in silence.
Layla Haidrani is a history student at University of Kent, Canterbury and an aspiring political journalist. She writes for The National Student and blogs for The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter here