Mental health of university students

As we recently had university mental health day on March 3rd, we must remember students are under immense pressure to be able to perform and succeed in university expecting to go into a competitive job market where degree does not guarantee a job. There are also many unfair expectations from adults believing the younger generation will solve great issues which are currently facing society, such as climate change and social problems not caused by their generation [1].

University is a time when a lot goes on in individual lives with many leaving home for the first time, building identities, and experiencing many “firsts”. however due to the pandemic young people today are having an isolated, atypical version of the experience those just a few years older than them had [2]. Freedoms are being brought back but a lot of young people are hesitant to take advantage of that as their social anxiety has grown and habits have been set.

There has been a 450% rise in declarations of mental distress among students over the last decade [3] On the surface this seems very worrying but some have suggested that it could be a positive sign of students feeling more able to speak up.

What should universities be doing to support the mental health of their students? The tutors and the lecturers are the first point of contact for a student. It’s not necessarily the counsellors/support systems anymore because they’ve been stretched thin, and indeed it’s hard for anyone to get a hold of a GP for a mental health appointment at the moment [4] so it’s up to the university to make good mental health policies to emphasise accessibility, keep students informed as to where the policy is going and listen to the feedback.

Communication between services is even more critical than usual as students are moving away from original support system in their hometowns. One of the good effects of therapy being more online now is that people can still keep in touch and have sessions with these old support systems.

It’s also important for people working with university students to understand that mental health is more than just stress. Recently body dysmorphia and eating disorders have seen a rise with a disproportionate impact on young girls [5] and that’s been triggered a lot by social media and societal pressure to look perfect.

In conclusion it’s important for all those who work with students to listen to them, not just assume they’re having “the best time of their lives” and look for ways to improve dialogues and understanding between teachers and students.