Published On: Tue, Oct 9th, 2012

The time of your life? Mental health problems and university

Each September as a new group of students head off to university, many of them moving away from home for the first time, one phrase will be heard more than any other – “you’re going to have the time of your life”.

Despite a little homesickness, students are continually told that they’re having fun, that everything will pick up. When your friends are all over Facebook covered in UV paint, it’s easy to see their lives through a selective lens and wonder why you aren’t having that much fun.

With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health difficulties at some point during their lives, it becomes clear that many of these will be students. With the added pressure of financial worries, academic work and a new home, the support in place becomes absolutely vital.

“Mental health problems are more common than official figures suggest”

Time to Change, a campaign to end mental health stigmatisation run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, recently found that 66 per cent of students reported a mental health problem despite 0.3 per cent declaring a mental health disability on their application form.

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, said: “Going to university and moving away from home is a stressful time for all students.

“Learning how to look after their own mental health and wellbeing at this critical time in their life is vital, and a big part of this is being able to speak openly to others about how they are feeling in order to get support and understanding instead of a barrage of stigma which just makes matters worse.

“Our research shows that mental health problems are more common among students than the official figures suggest.”

“If I wanted support now, I’d have no idea where to go”

The university, particular departments and your students’ union can all be involved in the process of supporting students, although it seems that there is an extremely varied experience of all three.

One alumnus student told us “lecturers themselves ranged from sympathetic but no idea what to do, to ignorant, to one whose actions made me more ill.”

Another current student described her experience after a best friend committed suicide – “overall, uni was really supportive as I was encouraged to be quite vocal about my situation to right people” but found it difficult after a semester “ [it] was harder because suddenly it seemed I was expected to be over it already and I wasn’t”.

It seems that whilst some students know that getting help is vital, they are not always sure where it is available. One student said “if there is support available, from people that have suitable training, it’s always helpful” but that “if I wanted mental health support now, I’d have no idea where to go.”

Several students said they weren’t aware of their own mental health issues until they were made aware of others’ experiences and realised how similar theirs were. One admitted they had experienced denial and anxiety that prevented them from getting help in the early stages.

Maggie Hayes, Vice President at LGoS, said “It is imperative that people feel they can turn to someone and express how they are feeling or what they are not feeling. No one should be made to feel that alone.

“With 1 in 4 people affected, and 1 in 9 young people, we think that it is important that we raise the awareness of the issues as well as the support available with the ultimate goal of ending discrimination.”

It seems that whilst the student experience is so varied, it is increasingly important that they speak out, not only to break down stigma, but to demand standards of care and support across their studies.

LGoS launches mental health campaign

Tomorrow, Wednesday October 10, Liverpool Guild of Students will celebrate World Mental Health Day with events across the day and this will mark the launch of their mental health campaign.

The University will be holding a Wellbeing Wednesday event in the Mountford Hall, 11am – 3pm, whilst LGoS host their Post Secret Stall from 10am – 2pm.

Debating Society will debate “This house would incarcerate those with mental health issues” from 5.30pm in the Guild Library, and Psychology Society will be showing the film A Beautiful Mind from 7pm in the Courtyard.

Those wanting to get involved with the campaign should head along to the Activist Recruitment Session with Maggie at 5pm in the Hub.

If you believe you may be experiencing mental health difficulties, please see this month’s Dear Jenni column, which contains advice on where to find help.

More information on World Mental Health Day at LGoS can be found here.

LSMedia would like to thank those students who came forward to speak about this subject. All names have been removed to protect their confidentiality.

LSMedia will be continuing to work with LGoS on this campaign – if you would like to anonymously share your experience please email editor@liverpoolstudentmedia.com

About the Author

- Millie is in her fourth year at UoL, studying an MA in Politics and the Mass Media. During her time here she has been involved with English Society, Debating Society, Student Council and LSMedia, where she was a News Editor for 18 months before taking the role of Editor-in-Chief. She is a lover of all things political, has written for a local newspaper and runs three blogs. Originally from Gloucestershire, she is happiest in her wellies, but loves Liverpool for its live music, art and cocktails. Her weaknesses are old Penguin books, cameras and a good cup of tea.

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