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The Big Secret of Student Life

Published Tuesday, 25 February, 2014 by Amy Murnan

University. It’s all about socialising, having fun and gaining life experience, right? Or perhaps for you it’s all about learning, exploring your interests and improving yourself. For whatever reason you are or want to be a student, you will undoubtedly find something about it appealing.

However, you will also (undoubtedly) find some aspects of university unappealing. The fees. The workload. The dubious job prospects. These are some of the downsides of a degree that everybody knows about. They are in the news, they are debated and discussed – people may have even asked you about them. But there is one downside that is seldom talked about, even less by the universities themselves. A secret that is not included in any version of the student life myth.

No matter where you go, what you study or how many friends you make, one fact remains: students are more likely to encounter mental health issues than the rest of the population. We aren’t just talking minor complaints, either. During the recession, the number of student suicides almost doubled in women and increased by 36% in men. This has resulted in a strain on counsellors, causing the demand to rise by 33% since 2008. Clearly this is a serious problem, and with a whole load of issues such as social stigma, lack of awareness and education exacerbating things, mental illness is a secret that is still being kept by many students.

Nobody wants to deal with mental health problems, least of all at such a life-changing time. But if you really want university to be what it said on the tin - the best years of your life – it is more important than ever to face the issue. Even if you don’t think you are or ever will be at risk, 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in a year. That means that you will know someone, openly or otherwise, who is suffering.

But don’t panic. Here are just a few of the things that you can help to achieve simply by blabbing the biggest secret of student life.

Clarification

Like many things, people often get the wrong impression about mental illness. This can be extremely damaging for people with and without mental health issues - it prevents people from spotting (or wanting to spot) symptoms, fuelling ignorance and discrimination. Help sort fact from fiction by trashing these mental health myths.

Preparation

You may not think of common problems like stress, anxiety and disturbed sleep as mental health problems, but they can quickly contribute to one and have a large impact on your state of mind. Understanding why and how they do will help you understand how big or small your worries really are, and help you to remember how your behaviour might be affecting someone else.

Support

If you are aware of mental health issues you will not only be able to help yourself find support, but you will be able to support others too. Remembering these early signs of mental illness may prove incredibly useful – and, if not, you have lost nothing by finding out about them.

It may seem simplistic, but in reality just being aware of the mental health of yourself and others is enough to prevent that niggling anxiety from turning into something more serious. Some of the most successful attempts to tackle mental health problems in students start with raising awareness. In this light, it seems illogical for universities to try and handle mental health issues on the down-low. It’s time for them – and us – to change.

Next week – find out the problem with perfectionism.

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