Students need to take responsibility for their mental health

22 Nov 2018

 

Increasingly mental health is getting the recognition and attention it deserves. Nowhere is this call louder than in our universities, where the mental health problems of the country's student population are grave. Multiple studies have found that mental health issues among this demographic in particular are on the rise.

 

A well-recognised problem in our universities is the lack of access to counselling services and the lengthy waiting periods experienced by those in need. Rightly, students’ unions are calling for academic institutions to increase funding and improve provision.

 

However, there is a contradiction in what we are demanding from our universities. In my time at university, there were increasing requests for study spaces to have longer opening hours - last year the university finally conceded and committed to opening the library on a 24/7 basis.

 

My library dwelling friends were overjoyed at this. But to me, this was a problematic development.

 

When it comes to mental health, we need to look at prevention (or perhaps maintenance) - not just cure. Ideally, we want to avoid getting to a point where we even require the medical services which are currently lacking. And a huge aspect of maintaining our mental health is our everyday lifestyles. Consequently, being able to work all night in the library is a huge negative when trying to achieve a mentally healthy lifestyle.

Another new concept we see increasingly in universities and offices is nap pods or other places to sleep during a work break in so-called 'wellness areas'. This conditions our brains and bodies to blur the lines between a place of work with a place of relaxation and sleep. It cannot be healthy to break down this boundary that allows you to switch off once you finish for the day and step through your front door.

 

Perhaps rather than focussing on the choice of students to work all night, we should consider the root cause, which is the excessive workload and poorly structured courses that put students under so much pressure. Undoubtedly, this is something that needs to be addressed.

 

But by requesting 24-hour workspaces and napping facilities students are voluntarily submitting to this intense work culture imposed by universities and companies. Instead, we should focus our efforts on convincing these institutions to change their ways and have realistic expectations that better balance hard work with good mental health.

 

Add to this the growing compulsion to fill any spare time with activities, societies and clubs to prepare the CV for an increasingly competitive job market, and any methods of relieving stress are side-lined by further chores for already anxious minds to worry about.

 

And so, as we look to combat the mental health crisis in our universities, we need to take care to ensure we address the underlying and systemic problems which contribute to poor mental health and not salivate over quick fixes that grab headlines in the student press.

 

But whilst this responsibility lies mainly with those running academic institutions, we as students and young people must also look at the lifestyles we are pursuing and how this impacts all aspects of our personal health.

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