Sending a child off to uni this autumn? Making sure he or she has a toaster, enough socks and knows how to boil an egg is bad enough, without having to worry about their mental health when they are living away from you for the first time. However, a YouGov survey of Britain’s students last year showed that more than a quarter of them report having a mental health problem of one type or another.
Female students are more likely to suffer than their male counterparts. Depression and anxiety are, by far, the commonest reported ailments, affecting over 75%. Eating disorders are less common but still a major concern at 14%. A sad reflection of the increasing pressure to achieve is that over three-quarters of our students report a fear of failure.
What is the cause of this terrible burden of stress? For over 70% it is the work itself, but for others it is the worry of finding work after uni, family or relationship issues.
How can we help?
- Luckily, universities are becoming stress-aware and providing mental health services to their students. So, make sure your son or daughter is aware of how to access them. But, if they are under the same pressures as mental health services around the country, there may be an unacceptable delay in getting an appointment. If that’s the case, be prepared to fight for help on your child’s behalf.
- Ensure your offspring understands the importance of good nutrition, exercise and decent sleep. Easier said than done when they are partying hard, studying (hopefully!) and surviving on takeaways or pot noodles. But looking after their physical health is fundamental to maintaining good mental health. And, of course, they need to know that alcohol may seem to help sleep but the quality is poor and excessive drinking will not help mental health in the long run. Drugs, too, are widespread at uni and can cause mental health problems in themselves. Or be taken as an attempted escape from stress, but just make mental and physical health much worse.
- Be there and be aware. Ensuring you are always there to listen, and staying tuned in is essential for picking up the warning signs early. A few days back at home may provide a welcome opportunity for them to sleep, get some proper nutrition and chat through any worries – and that may nip more serious mental health issues in the bud. If you can’t coax them home, then don’t be afraid to discuss worries with a tutor who should be trained to spot signs of mental health issues, deal sensitively with any impending problems, perhaps reduce some of the work demands and ensure that support is provided when needed.
For more info or support check out the following:
Set up for students, by students http://studentsagainstdepression.org/
University Mental Health Advisors network http://www.umhan.com/