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Students need support for mental health

The National Union of Students carried out a survey last year which worryingly found that one in five students consider themselves to have problems with their mental health. Yet only a quarter of these people said they were seeking help, and only 10 per cent used university counselling services. Mental health problems can crop up at any time. Common factors among students include the pressure of needing to perform well academically, homesickness, loneliness, financial problems and the pressure to ‘fit in’, possibly not just in a new city but in a new country and culture. There might also be problems at home, whether it’s at university or where someone grew up: grief, assault, eating disorders and more to deal with. The list is endless. Equally, mental health issues may seem to arise from nowhere, but a person can become ill nonetheless.

Morwenna Jones, who wrote recently in The Guardian about her experiences with depression and eating disorders while studying at The University of Cambridge, contributes to the narrative of the thousands of often silent students who end up suffering, during what we’re all told is meant to be the best time of our lives.

Since mental health issues are an ever-increasing fact of university life, it must be asked whether universities are doing enough to reduce the pressure on students and to provide the support they need. However, it is first worth asking why students don’t seek out any help which may be available to them. Lack of publicity and information about services available both within and outside university may contribute to this.

What may also contribute is a very common fear of not being taken seriously about your problems, or being put on a lengthy waiting list. Some may also try to seek advice or special consideration from tutors and lecturers, only to find a lack of understanding. According to websites such as ‘Oxford Speaks Its Mind’, there are instances where students have asked for more time to complete their work, only to be told to ‘get over it’. While we can’t expect teaching staff to be fully trained in dealing with such difficulties, it is unacceptable that such a total lack of empathy can exist in academia.

So are universities doing enough? In terms of providing support, they do what they can; many universities do have counselling services in place, which can provide advice and provide help. Some places are working to create more understanding and openness about mental health issues as well, although this is a slow process. However, in terms of reducing pressure, the answer is less positive. Students arrive at university and are bombarded with all kinds of priorities in the name of ‘getting the most out of university’ – from coursework and exams to societies and socialising, with some students also balancing a part-time job or caring responsibilities. There needs to be more emphasis on striking a balance; any advice on this gets lost within tides of commitments and immediate pressures. University is about immersing yourself in new experiences, but you also need to prioritise taking care of yourself.

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