Mental health problems at University is a widely-discussed topic in the media at the moment. Whilst people are focused on why so many students are being diagnosed with mental illness, perhaps more worrying is the fact that, according to a recent NUS survey, many students aren’t even reporting their mental health issues.
Coming to University can bring out problems that weren’t as apparent at home. The combination of drinking culture and many late nights certainly does not help if you are suffering with mental health issues. Coming to a flat full of new peers on whom you want to make a good impression whilst struggling with mental problems of your own can be very daunting, and problems which stay hidden often rear their ugly head twice as high later on. Even simple things such as not having people getting you up in the morning like when you were at home can end up with you being left alone with your thoughts.
On top of this, money pressures are loaded on to students, possibly for the first time in their lives, which adds another thing to worry about. Taking responsibility for you own finances and health takes up a lot of energy and no doubt if you are suffering for an underlying mental health issue it will only help to bring it to the fore.
So, if going to University can highlight existing mental health issues, why aren’t students seeking help? One very prevalent reason is because of the stigma attached to it. Mental health is not treated like physical health, even though it is just as real. The media paints people with mental health problems as dangerous, even though they are statistically far more of a danger to themselves than they are to others and 95% of homicides are committed by someone with no diagnosed problem. There’s also stereotyping – people with diseases such as bipolar are sexualized and people with depression are seen as useless. All of this is something that you just wouldn’t get if you were bed-ridden with appendicitis instead of malfunctioning serotonin synapses in your brain.
Some people also think that mental health doesn’t need the same level of treatment, but because they are diseases like any other, they very much do! For example, someone with diabetes wouldn’t stop taking their insulin just because they felt better and people with asthma aren’t told to stop taking their inhalers and to ‘just get over it’. However, people with mental health issues are often told by their peers and the media that they don’t need treatment, that they can just ‘cheer up’ or ‘get over it’ or that ‘time is a great healer.’ Mental health needs compassion, treatment and care, just as much as physical health does.
We are lucky to be at a University with an on-campus medical centre and Open Door team, both of which are confidential. Regardless of the complaints about the under-staffing of both, they are still there to help and they are still effective. On the whole, you won’t be waiting for more than two weeks for an appointment, and they can usually speed things along if you’re desperate. Nightline is also good if you just need someone to listen. www.mind.org.uk is a really good website, full of helpful advice and information for those who suffer from mental health problems and their friends and family.
If you feel like you might be suffering from a mental health problem, or are having suicidal thoughts, I implore you to seek help. It is completely confidential. I know the hardest bit is going, and admitting to yourself that you might have a problem, but it is so worth it.