Understanding How to Manage Mental Health in University

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What is Mental Health?

The term mental health refers to a person’s emotional, psychological, and social state. Most people – no matter what age or background – experience some kind of mental health condition at a certain point in their life.

Individuals with good mental health are able to work successfully, maintain relationships, cultivate hobbies, contribute to their community, and recognise their potential. People with poor mental health struggle to do these, with their psychological state casting a negative influence on many parts of their life, including their:

  • Feelings
  • Thoughts
  • Self-esteem
  • Relationships
  • Work and school commitments
  • Physical health
  • Decision making capabilities
  • Ability to enjoy life
  • Ability to cope with stress

Examples of Mental Health Issues and Illnesses

There are a wide range of disorders that can impact individual’s mood, thinking, and behaviour, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Symptoms of Mental Illnesses

Knowing the signs and symptoms of mental health issues allows people to access support before their symptoms worsen to an unmanageable level. Seeking help early on when treating a mental illness is extremely important, stopping the condition’s progression in its tracks, reducing its interference with daily life, and decreasing the chance of the recurrence in the future.

Each condition has specific symptoms, though there are some similarities that can be spotted between them, including but not limited to:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Significant tiredness and low energy
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Withdrawal from friends, studies and activities
  • Sleeping problems
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Physical symptoms – headaches, gastrointestinal issues, physical pain
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Problems with alcohol or drug use
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Suicidal thinking

Mental Health at University

University is an exciting first step into adulthood. It is here that most young people get their first real taste of freedom, make new friends, have unforgettable experiences, and realise who they really are. However exciting this may be, it can also be extremely overwhelming and a lot to handle.

How Do Mental Health Struggles Impact University Students?

Mental health problems commonly arise during times of change or stress. Going to university involves large amounts of both of these, resulting in many developing mental health problems during this time. It is vitally important to keep checking in with yourself and make an effort to build a strong support network around you to keep your own mental health in check.

As a student, keeping yourself healthy during your studies will allow you to perform your best and make the most of the experience. Psychological issues can make it extremely difficult to cope with any stress, uphold commitments, and interfere with relationships.

Do Student Mental Health Difficulties Count as Mitigating Circumstances?

Having a mental health condition can seriously stand in the way of a person’s ability to hand in their work on time and complete it to their usual ability. If a student is in this position, their university should allow for mitigating or extenuating circumstances. Each institution has its own set of rules which define if a student can qualify for this and applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Looking After Your Mental Health at University

Looking after your mental state is vital not only for your studies, but also for every aspect of daily life. Luckily, there are a number of steps you can take to stay mentally fit and healthy.

Make Time and Space for Your Mental Health

With numerous commitments and opportunities being constantly sprung at students, it is easy for them to forget about their mental health. Though it only takes partaking in ten minutes of daily mindfulness to make a difference. This could look different from person-to-person: a midday walk, meditating, stretching before breakfast, dancing around your room, or petting a cat.

It’s important to remember that this time needs to be for yourself where you aren’t trying to live up to anyone else’s expectations of yourself.

Change Your Daily Habits

Transitioning from a rigid structure of school to the large amounts of freedom in university life means many students lose their sense of routine and healthy habits with it. There are some easy lifestyle changes that can be made to correct for this and boost both physical and mental health:

  • Wake up earlier at a regular time
  • Eat healthier
  • Take a short daily walk
  • Limit social media exposure
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Learn a new skill
  • Write in a journal for ten minutes each day
  • Turn off all electronic devices one hour before sleeping each night

Look After Your Physical Health

Looking after your physical health does wonders for your brain. This includes exercising, eating healthy, drinking water, sleeping well, and getting outside.

Be Kind to Yourself

People tend to be their own worst enemy. Negative self-talk can be detrimental to your self esteem and in turn, your mental health. Allow yourself to make mistakes, go through a week of low mood, and not meet your own expectations without coming down so hard on yourself – remember nobody is perfect.

Challenge Overthinking

It’s easy to get carried away in a sea of panic and regret during stressful times until the worry has amplified five-fold. When an unhelpful thought arises – such as “I’m never going to finish my degree” – take a step back for five minutes to examine and reframe it.

You may be able to change the situation that’s causing so much stress if you consider where thoughts related to it are coming from. Some key questions to help you navigate through these times include:

  • Is it true?
  • Do I believe this?
  • What happens if it is true?
  • Why do I think this?
  • Can I change this?
  • What would I say to a friend if they said this?

Plan, Plan, Plan

When it seems like you have too much to do, planning gives you a sense of control over your time and reduces stress in the long run. For example, laying out a revision schedule decreases the amount of stress experienced closer to exam time. However, it’s important to be realistic with yourself about how much you can do in a certain period to avoid further stress and disappointment. To prevent this and create a smooth running schedule, start timing how long it takes for you to complete a certain task.

Planning also gives you something to look forward to which can be used as motivation to get other important tasks completed – such as going to see a movie or going for a walk with friends.

mental health in university

Student Mental Health Services and Advice

How Do Universities Deal with Mental Health Conditions?

Universities should be well versed in the importance of looking out for their student’s overall health. Many offer mental health support services via support groups, sporting initiatives, drop-in counselling, advisors, or dog petting days! Your university’s student support team or their website should be able to provide you with the information regarding what services they offer.

Finding Specialistic Support

Much of the time, university support services and programs are under a lot of pressure, leaving many students in higher education struggling without the tools to combat the difficulties they are facing. Specialist centres – such as the Wave Clinic – can offer individualised mental health support to young people. Here, highly trained staff can provide specialist, person-centred treatment and advice that keeps your particular needs at the centre.

Contact Us

To give young people the best chance of a full recovery and the opportunity to experience positive growth, the Wave Clinic offers holistic approaches towards tackling mental struggles and conditions. Our expert team uses evidence-based techniques which can be tailored for each individual’s needs and specific situation. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you or your loved one face any mental health condition that may be standing in their way.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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