Something that’s not the first thing that springs to mind when discussing student issues – depression. If you ask most people to sum up their student experience in a couple of words, you will most likely get something along the lines of “the best years of my life”. This is what makes depression and students so dangerous – it’s under the radar and very rarely talked about. So what about those students who aren’t lucky enough to have the same experience?
Students can be particularly vulnerable to poor mental health, even more so as a fresher, as we are still adjusting to a new life, new city and new responsibilities which can often overwhelm students. There is such a great expectation to enjoy ourselves and make the most of our time at university (the saying ‘you’re only a fresher once!’ springs to mind) therefore many feel a great amount of pressure and try to shrug off any symptoms of depression. You may be constantly questioning your decision to come to university, but there is so much at stake (tuition fees, expectations, maintenance loans etc.) that many feel they have to stay even if they aren’t happy. Who can you talk to? Not everyone is lucky enough to be paired with a future best friend, and you might not feel comfortable confiding in any of your flat/course mates. Living on takeaways, fast food and energy drinks? There is a massive link between poor mental health and poor diets, however with most students having limited kitchen abilities many have no choice. All in all, students experiencing signs of depression more often than not don’t know how to deal with their emotions.
Here are some symptoms to look out for that may indicate some form of depression:
Poor sleeping patterns: insomnia can affect your whole life in that you’re often always out of energy, which means you will have less motivation to get up and get out. It’s a vicious circle, as you can end up going for days staying in your room which will only worsen your mood.
Strange appetite: Depending on the person, some may comfort themselves and binge on all sorts of food whereas others may lose their appetite - either way it’s dangerous.
Poor attendance and performance at university: bad results, concentration and attendance are some of the key signals of depression. This may be due to lack of interest, motivation or just simply not wanting to leave your room.
Isolation: Isolating yourself from friends, flatmates and avoiding social contact.
Money problems: Students who don’t manage their money well can end up in serious financial difficulty. Living off overdrafts can really bring your student experience to a halt as you can no longer afford the nights out and social life – and are forced to stay in. Every night.
Feelings of severe sadness, loneliness, guilt, nervousness and helplessness.
It’s important to remember that there are many different types of depression all with different symptoms, and also that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Nearly 1 in5 adults now suffer from anxiety or depression, so if you experience any of these symptoms then know that you are not alone. Some may think the student lifestyle is all fun and games; however the pressures and stresses of university are real and can really start to pile on top of you if not dealt with.
What can I do to treat my depression?
Talk about it. Don’t keep your emotions cooped up inside your head as that can only worsen the problem, so get it out in the open. Chat to friends from home, new flat/course mates, lecturers, family or the Student Advice and Wellbeing centre in your university. It may come under a different name, but every university will provide some form of emotional and confidential support. Remember – a problem shared is a problem halved.
Try to fill your diet with foods known to boost your moods. Have a read of my blog from way back at the start of the year, we may not be in January but the blog is full of mood boosting recipes that will no doubt put a smile on your face.
Get involved in some sort of society, get stuck back into university work and give yourself something to get up for in the morning.
Sit around and chat with flatmates and friends rather than sitting alone in your room - it keeps your mind busy and social interaction is really important.
Keep active – go for a walk around the city, head to the gym or go to an exercise class with friends. One class of Zumba will leave you in stitches…
Whist socialising is important, it’s probably best to avoid drinking lots of alcohol as it works as a depressant and can make you feel worse (especially the morning after). There is no reason why you can’t go out with friends but limit the number of drinks consumed.
If you are really struggling, go see your university nurse or local GP. Don’t ignore it and face up to your emotions – don’t feel like you are wasting anyone’s time. Depression is real, and there is so much support out there whether it comes from friends, family or doctors. They may be able to put you on medication for a small period of time to help ease your symptoms and get your university life back on track.
Depression – it’s incredibly easy to fall into but you can’t fight it alone. University is an emotional rollercoaster, and every now and then we might fall off, but it’s not the end of the world. You can get back on again with a little help – don’t let it affect what has the potential to be the best years of your life.
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