Students were told to aim for the top and reach for the stars. But what happens when the very thing propelling us towards success becomes the weight that drags us down?
Students’ mental health is often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of academia. Focusing on achieving excellence, they ignore the signs of deteriorating mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and even suicidal tendencies. Despite the awareness and advocacies related to student mental health issues among universities, much still needs to be done to make sure that learners are provided with adequate resources for support.
This article will discuss some of the hidden struggles that students face concerning their mental well-being and what steps can be taken by both individuals and institutions to improve it.
What causes mental health problems?
Mental health refers to a person’s psychological and emotional well-being. It is characterized by an individual’s capacity to enjoy life, show resilience when faced with troubles, and make meaningful contributions to the world.
Mental health is not merely the absence of mental illness or distress; it encompasses a wide range of issues and experiences, which can be tied to many factors, including the pressure to perform, the fear of failure, or even the loneliness and isolation of university. For some, it could also be because of financial troubles or family problems at home; for others, it might be the lack of social support or difficulty adjusting to a new environment.
Whatever the cause of mental health problems is, note that each person’s struggle and recovery process is unique. Therefore, it is essential to provide personalized support and resources for individuals experiencing mental health issues in order to ensure their well-being.
How students suffer
Mental health, a topic once shrouded in mystery and stigma, is now front and center in students’ lives everywhere. From the pressures of academia to the complexities of social dynamics, student mental health faces a barrage of challenges like never before. Let’s shed light on these struggles and find the tools to help tackle them head-on.
Decreased academic performance
Mental health issues can impact a student’s ability to focus, concentrate, and retain information, leading to lower grades and decreased academic performance. Students cram and burn the midnight oil to catch up but end up exhausted and more pressured. Hence, this process results in burnout, with students unable to do their best even when they put in the extra effort.
Sometimes, students view their academic performance as a measure of their self-worth. The vicious cycle of intellectual decline creates a sense of helplessness that can be hard to break free from.
Social isolation and withdrawal
Mental health issues can cause students to isolate themselves from others. They suffer from social withdrawal or the lack of social interaction with family and peers. The fear of judgment and rejection, combined with the weight of their issues, can make it challenging for students to open up about their struggles.
This further perpetuates a feeling of loneliness and depression, low esteem and a sense of inadequacy, hindering them from developing strong relationships that can provide emotional support.
Difficulty forming and maintaining relationships
Even without issues, meeting and forming good relationships are difficult during college. But when students are dealing with mental health issues, creating meaningful connections with peers and professors becomes even more challenging.
This is because their insecurity and self-doubt can make them fear being judged or rejected by others. Consequently, this further fuels the cycle of loneliness and discouragement, which makes it hard for them to seek help.
Mental health problems can lead to increased absenteeism and decreased participation in school activities. Students may feel that their mental health is so far gone that they can’t bear the thought of attending classes or engaging in academic activities. Being overwhelmed by the demands at school and having to deal with personal issues can cause students to distance themselves from academics altogether.
Mental health struggles push a student to show disruptive or challenging behavior in the classroom, such as refusal to complete tasks, off-based outbursts, and a lack of self-regulation. Consequently, learning experiences become difficult as teachers have to spend more time managing the behaviour of one student than teaching the whole class. It can also lead to decreased motivation and a lack of interest in their favourite subjects or activities.
Increased risk of substance abuse
Struggling with mental health can increase the risk of substance abuse and addiction. To cope with the negative emotions, some students may turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their pain. It can lead to a dangerous substance abuse and addiction cycle, further exacerbating mental health issues and symptoms.
Students thought that substance use could bring temporary relief, but the effects are only short-term, and the underlying issues remain unsolved.
Difficulty with daily activities
Not only do students battle with their academic performance and social life, but they are also affected in their day-to-day activities. Some find it hard to get out of bed each morning, while some need help to focus on personal hygiene or leisure activities. Daily routines are tangled, and the student may take much longer to complete everyday tasks such as taking a shower, getting ready for school, eating meals, studying, etc.
Physical health problems
Even a simple mental health issue can significantly impact physical health, leading to increased illness and chronic health problems. Stress from mental illness can cause a weakened immune system, fatigue and exhaustion, digestive problems or sleep disruption. In some cases, it can even lead to severe conditions such as IBS, cardiovascular disease or obesity. How?
When the body is anxious, the heart rate increases, breathing becomes shallow, and adrenaline levels rise. All of this can put pressure on the cardiovascular system, leading to more severe physical health issues.
Increased risk of suicide
Mental health problems, especially depression, are a major risk factor for suicidal tendencies and self-harm. At first, students suffering from mental health issues may feel isolated and hopeless, believing that no one will be able to understand them or that no one will be kind enough to help them.
As the situation worsens, they may fall into a dark hole and lose hope in life, eventually thinking of suicide as their only way out from emotional pain.
What can be done?
First and foremost, it is crucial to recognize the signs of mental health problems to address them right and get suitable treatment. Treat it as a serious issue that needs attention and that their mental health should come first.
Here are some ways to help students with mental health issues:
- Let them prioritize self-care by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating healthy meals to maintain physical and mental health. Even if they have like a thousand things to do, don’t nag. Make sure they take time for themselves too.
- Create a safe, accepting environment for the student. Showing understanding can make them feel more comfortable in expressing their feelings.
- Encourage them to seek professional help such as therapy or counselling. They must learn how to manage their emotions and behaviours in a healthy way.
- Help them build a strong support system. Find opportunities for them to connect with other students and adults who can provide love and guidance. One of the best support systems you can find is family and friends.
- Make sure to track the student’s progress. Be aware of any changes in their behaviour, relationships, or grades that could indicate a worsening mental health issue.
- Practice mindfulness and self-care activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, journaling and more to help manage stress and anxiety.
- Offer extra help with assignments or tasks when needed. This can lower their stress levels and make it easier for them to cope with everyday challenges. Additionally, you can regularly monitor students for signs of mental health problems and intervene quickly and effectively when necessary.
- Provide resources for mental health. Make sure they know where to turn when in need of help. Institutions must offer this kind of support and resources, like counselling sessions or peer-mentoring programs, wherein the students can feel safe and comfortable enough to talk about their struggles and make sure they know the result of the abuse and the access to the right help.
It may not be apparent now, but these mental health issues can long-term affect a student’s overall well-being and academic success. If left untreated, the consequences can become overwhelming and unmanageable. Hence, it is imperative to identify the signs of mental illness early on and support students to help them lead successful lives inside and outside of school.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health, but taking the time and effort to recognize the signs and provide support can have a tremendous impact on students’ lives. With proper intervention, emotional distress can be managed in healthy, constructive ways that lead to improved overall well-being.
Also, know that you are not alone. Many support systems are available to guide and help you through your journey.