There is no doubt that being a student can be stressful. Whilst there are many positive aspects of student life, there are also many pressures. Students need to look after their mental health so that they are fit to face the challenges presented.
(For a description of what we mean by mental health see our "What is Mental Health?" page)
Surveys of student populations often report much higher levels of the symptoms of anxiety than the norm for their age group. Levels of symptoms for depression can also be higher amongst students. For example, one UK study found that students were 1.64 times more likely to experience symptoms of mental ill health than the general population (Harrison et al 1999). Another found that reported levels of moderate to severe anxiety among second year students were nearly twice that of the general population (Webb et al 1996).
(See our research pages for more information.)
The reasons why students might show these levels of stress-related symptoms are many, for example:
- the transition away from home, family or work
- the process of developing an adult identity
- uncertainty about the future
- relationship problems
- the pressure of work and assessments
- money problems
All these problems have been cited. The causes or triggers will differ from person to person, they will affect different students in different ways, and the solutions for each individual will also vary. Mature students and students from overseas will have additional and sometimes different pressures affecting their well-being.
"There are a lot of factors in a mental health diagnosis. Contributing factors may be biological, neurological, life events such as: grieving, drug taking, accidents, divorce, moving house. You have to look at the person's social situation." - (Student)
In addition to stress related factors, students will be affected by the same range of mental health problems as faced by the general population. In some cases they will experience such severe conditions that they may find it difficult to continue with their work and need time out for treatment.
Your Mental Health - Your Friends' Mental Health
You may be reading this because you are concerned for your own mental health or because you are worried about a friend. There are many things that you can do if you are concerned, perhaps one of the most important is to find someone to talk to about the situation.
The solution to an individual's problems may include a number of options:
- changing the situation
- recognising when the situation cannot be changed and developing strategies to lessen its impact
- gaining insight into how one's environment or personal history might be influencing a response to a current situation
- dealing with feelings
- working to gain a different perspective
- building a greater sense of confidence in one's ability to understand and manage difficult situations
- setting achievable goals
- identifying appropriate external supports
- taking prescribed medication
The particular mix will vary for each individual depending on their circumstances. As with our physical health, we can take steps to build up our mental fitness and seek help when our mental health is challenged.
For some resources around supporting a friend with mental health needs, click on the link.
Sources of support
Although OSMHN is not able to offer direct support to students who are experiencing emotional distress or mental health problems, we are concerned that students are aware of the support that is available. Our local support for students page shows a range of sources of support available to students in Oxford. By clicking on the links you can find out more about each option. The options shown cover informal and more formal sources of support and are intended to cover a whole range of needs from mild emotional distress through to more serious mental or emotional distress. See our section on Referral if you or a friend need help with mental health problems which are having an immediate and serious impact on your well-being.
For further resources around dealing with various aspects of student life e.g. homesickness, loneliness, exam stress, click on the link.
For details of national organisations and web sites providing support for students, click on the link.